Sitting behind his desk at Market Street Partners, James Purgason looks like an everyday businessman.
"Most people just refer to me as an accountant," the 36-year-old Chattanooga resident said. "Most people don't know I'm a veteran, I guess."
Purgason is completely fine with the anonymity. It made trading the front lines in Afghanistan for the bottom line of corporate taxes a very desirable transaction.
"I guess I don't fit the stereotype of an older veteran," he said. "I don't hide it from people, and if it comes up, I'm happy to discuss it."
Another topic he's willing to discuss is the controversial withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. It's been a passionate debate that fell along political lines, leaving feelings hurt and lives changed. But Purgason said the most important point seemed to get lost in the debate.
"The question was no longer whether we should or not," Purgason said. "But, we made promises. Those people served with us, and they were risking a lot because they were tired of being attacked and killed. It's sad to feel like we didn't keep our promise. Whenever you make the decision to go, you have an obligation to keep safe the people you made the promises to.
"Don't shed any tears for me; I have a family and am blessed. I just feel bad for the people there," he said.
Name: James Purgason
Branch of military: U.S. Army
Years of service: 2004-2010
Those feelings of honor and sacrifice caused Purgason to leave right before finishing his college career at The Citadel to join the Army.
"If I didn't [enlist], someone with a wife and kids would have to go," he said. "That seat is going to be filled by someone, so I thought it should be me."
He was enlisted in the South Carolina Army National Guard while he was a cadet at The Citadel and went to boot camp the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. His unit got activated in January 2007 — five months before he was set to graduate.
He eventually graduated in May 2009 after returning from Afghanistan.
Purgason described himself as a young man when he went to war, and he said that changed. He described his time working with Afghan border police as "a lot calmer than he expected," even with death around him.
"It would be five months of riding around to the same villages, then it would be 10-15 minutes of mass chaos," he said. "It was very different from how most wars are presented in movies."
The motives and movements may be different, but the emotions and memories of being in a war are remembered forever.
"I often tell people, I saw the best in humanity and the worst, and it gave me the unfettered belief that good triumphs over evil," he said. "I left there believing that."
It's a life-changing belief that makes the daily routine of number crunching, while safe and steady, a lot more predictable than his previous career. But the two careers aren't as far apart as one might imagine.
"'Excitement' was not why I joined," Purgason said. "I enjoy serving people, that's why I joined the military.
"So yeah, it's kind of hard to be that passionate about accounting per se, but I am that passionate about serving people, accounting and business advisory just happens to be the profession in which I now serve my clients."
Contact Jay Greeson at email@example.com.
Veteran Salute will be published daily through Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Read about more Chattanooga-area veterans at timesfreepress.com/veterans/2021.