Billy Massingale, 49, of Cleveland, holds a creative art compilation shadow box made by his middle daughter, Sabra, inside his man cave. Massingale began service in the 82nd Airborne. Then, served with various long range divisions of Company H121st and Echo Company 51st in Iraq. Finally, he became a special advisor to the Afghan army. "I just love it," Massingale said.

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The repeat volunteer: After several deployments, now he's helping fellow vets in need


Name: Billy Massingale

Age: 49

Home: Charleston, Tenn.

Military branch and rank: U.S. Army, staff sergeant

After the towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, Staff Sgt. Billy Massingale wanted to do his part.

Between several combat deployments in the 1980s and 1990s for the 82nd Airborne division, you could argue the 49-year-old had already been doing just that.

But Massingale, a father of three and former franchise owner of Griffin's Hotdogs in Brainerd, signed up for another five straight combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If you think about the difficult times after 9/11, there was uncertainty, and nobody knew what to do," said Massingale, who was overseas from 2005 to 2010.

Massingale was surrounded by veterans growing up: his father, all his uncles. Ever curious, he probed the men for details of wartime: Did they kill people? What was Vietnam like? But they shut down, their minds wracked by post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. Only years later did Massingale understand.

He nearly experienced it after his last deployment to Afghanistan. As Easter weekend ended and Monday rolled around, his wife went to work and his daughters went to school. He was truly alone for the first time since returning from war.

The experience pushed him to create "Watch Your Six," a Facebook page for veterans to connect and discuss post-war struggles, including navigating the Veterans Affairs system and simple stuff like paying the light bill.

Massingale saw things in the desert that most humans will only read about in books: border patrol catching fugitives from Syria, snow leopard poachers, improvised explosive devices, terrorist groups.

And danger was everywhere.

"My first deployment in 2005 I personally got hit twice. In 2006, I got hit once. In 2007, I got hit. In Afghanistan, we hit an explosive. It was like a grenade under a board. Didn't pop the tire, but freaked me out."

There's more: "I've been flipped upside down, thrown out of a Humvee, cracked my spine, had a couple of cases of [traumatic brain injury], couple of concussions."

Why does a Charleston, Tenn., man who now works as a security specialist at Amazon go to war so many times?

To help the kids, Massingale said. To offer a better world outside of violence and poverty.

Massingale still remembers one boy. He wanted to be an engineer and build stronger dams and irrigation systems in Iraq. So Massingale ordered him a basic engineering textbook and tries to stay in touch.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.