SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – Since 2001, nearly 3 million Americans have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. On this week’s edition of Veterans Voices, we introduce you to one guardsman who served.

“The one reason in my mind that I wanted to get in was I wanted to get physically stronger and mentally stronger,” said Army National Guard Veteran Tyler Cleveland.

At 18 years old, Tyler Cleveland made a life changing decision to pursue a career in the military.

“My step father was killed in a helicopter crash, and he was the biggest motivator. He was like, this is an opportunity knocking at your door,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland joined the Army National Guard in 2002 and was based out of Sergeant Bluff.

“At the time it was a 77 fox, which is one of the quarter master series mos’s, and that’s a petroleum supply specialist, so basically a fueler of aircraft,” Cleveland said.

In April 2003, Cleveland received order for his first deployment. He would spend the next 6 months in Afghanistan.

“At first I was surprised, I also asked, do I have to go? And they were like yeah, you basically have no choice,” Cleveland said.

He recalls what it was like to work with aircraft in the heat of the Middle East.

“Three aircraft back to back that we had to fuel, like we basically had to stand out by the fueling point. And then there’s like the pump, so the pump is usually like 100 meters or so. That was incredible standing underneath that and all that heat,” Cleveland explained.

Cleveland returned to the states in October 2003 and didn’t go on another tour until 2006. This time, he volunteered.

“It kind of ties back to the reason I got into the Military service in the first place. I was always a shrimp, I was always skinny,” Cleveland said.

This deployment sent him to Iraq.

“That was top secret orders to actually be, basically convoy security and area security for this base of civilians that were part of Saddam’s black squad,” Cleveland explained.

After 11 months in Iraq, Cleveland returned to Siouxland and eventually left the military in 2010.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of good re-enlistment bonuses at the time and, I don’t know, I’d just seen enough. I wasn’t really looking forward to losing any more friends,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland said his last big assignment in the National Guard was in 2008. That’s when he helped sandbag the Mississippi River in Fort Madison, Iowa. Cleveland is now a member of the American Legion Post 307 in South Sioux City.