WACO, Texas (KWTX) When Robert Carter enlisted in the Army he was certain he would be sent to Vietnam, but he was stationed in Germany instead, patrolling the Czech border in the days of the Cold War.
"We were always waiting for that in case Russia tried to come and take over, you know if missiles were gonna' come or what was gonna' come," he said.
Carter remained on active duty for three years.
The young soldier known as "Popeye" for his big forearms had trained as a mechanic, and made the natural transition to the 348th Engineering Reserve Unit when he left active duty.
That position took him all over the world from building military camps in Central America to the Middle East during the Gulf War.
He remembers November 15th, 1990 like it was yesterday.
He was at work running the maintenance division at an area car dealership when he got some shocking news.
"My secretary came in and said, 'your reserve unit called. They said to tell you raging bull," he told us, "that was our code word to come to the reserve center, we'd been activated. "
That came at an especially difficult time in Carter's personal life with a troubled son and wife struggling with illness.
"I had to put her in the hospital and when it got time to leave I had a decision to make because I could have stayed if I needed to, but I couldn't leave my guys," Carter told us.
When they got to King Fahd Airport on the Persian Gulf in Saudi Arabia, they were in for a violent welcome.
After scrubbing one landing and turning around because of an attack they tried again, and got targeted again once they landed.
"Within 30 minutes or so it seemed like scuds started coming in, we heard boom, boom, boom boom. Put on our chemical masks because of threat of Sarin gas," Carter said.
He and a small contingent of soldiers remained in that area of Khobar on the Gulf to receive and process equipment as it came in.
The rest of the unit needed it to build camps for U.S. military personnel in other locations.
But Carter and his group were met with conflict.
"Every night scuds were coming in, scuds were coming in," Carter said.
He remembers when living quarters were struck, killing 12 members of a reserve unit from North Carolina.
Carter eventually joined the rest of his unit building up the infrastructure at Eskan Village in Saudi Arabia, home of the U.S. war room, Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell.
"My group built a fence all the way around the compound, it was a four mile fence, concertina wire all around it, we built bunkers, parking lots," Carter explained.
They made great progress and eventually made their way home.
But Carter soon discovering he was one of the veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.
"You've got muscle aches, joint aches, your body hurts, you start have digestive problems, hearing problems and I started having a lot of these," he said.
And those health problems snowballed to an immune system disorder, a digestive illness, and eventually cancer.
"In 2008 they gave me six months to live and with the good Lord's favor I beat it and some good doctors and the VA," Carter said.
While it is it unknown exactly how much Gulf War Syndrome had to do with those illnesses, many combat veterans struggled with it.
Carter works to assist struggling veterans through the Veterans One Stop in Waco.
And he hopes other people understand what they've all gone through.
He told us, "the guys that went out and did it are dedicated, they do it for the country and they do it for each other."