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Friendly fire is bump in the road for Navy veteran turned Uber driver

By Sabrina Bodon, Point Park News Service:

You’d have plenty to read about if you were ever stuck behind Larry Cmar’s Chevy.

Veterans. Afghanistan. The Pirates. The Navy. The Steelers. Uber.

Photo credit: Sabrina Bodon, Point Park News Service

For a man who’s spent over two decades in the Navy, Cmar takes pleasure in the laid-back environment of being an Uber driver. He says that he’s happy, but it took some time to get there.

The 51-year-old veteran and McKeesport resident recounts his experiences in the service with heavy emotion.

“If anyone who tells you they’re not scared going into combat, they’re lying,” Cmar said.

The date September 14th,1990, is etched into his life, not only as his 24th birthday, but also the day he was shot.

“People talk about their birthday, but there’s another birth date: the day you survive death,” he said.

Cmar had joined the Navy in 1983, fresh out of high school at the age of 17, following four years involved in a Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program. He wouldn’t let his injuries stop him from continuing the career he had dedicated his life to.

As part of the Operation Desert Storm in the Seabee battalion, Cmar was traveling with his convoy unit to deliver supplies for troops on the front lines in Saudi Arabia. Though it was midday, the oil rigs in the area clouded the sky, masking it to look like night.

“I was nervous, a little apprehensive about the trip,” Cmar said. “I was going into hostile territory.”

During this time, Seabees wore solid green uniforms, which were similar to those of The Republican Guard, their enemy. In the oily dark of the day, the Marines misidentified the convoy and opened fire.

Cmar took a round to the stomach.

“What’s scary about being shot is it’s not like the movies at all,” he said. “Your body starts shutting down, and your body can’t seem to grasp that something tragic has happened and you could possibly die.”

Photo credit: Sabrina Bodon, Point Park News Service

Cmar began to panic as his body shook. Though he began to feel cold, he described the initial pain as a fiery punch.

“Getting shot feels like somebody’s taking a branding iron you brand a cattle with and running 100 yards with it and burning you,” he said.

Cmar was evacuated and had surgery in Germany before returning to the United States to recover. He was honorably discharged.

Down on his luck, Cmar returned home to Pittsburgh.

“I call these years ‘The Lost Years,’” Cmar said of the early 1990s where he suffered from addiction and lived in homelessness.

After five years of recovery, Cmar moved to Norfolk, Va. to join the Navy Reserves. By 2000, he was in active duty again. His career, which spanned two decades and multiple states, largely consisted of 16-hour days and months-long trips out to sea, nicknamed Iron Man Cruises.

Cmar returned to civilian life in 2005. Still living in Norfolk, he took up a job as a mall security guard. During this time, his first marriage fell apart.

At a Steelers’ bar in Norfolk, he met Heidi, his future wife, who encouraged him to begin seeing a therapist with Veterans Affairs in 2012.

Now in his fifties, Cmar said he enjoys the leisure of working as an Uber driver in the Pittsburgh area.

“I know I’m an overqualified Uber driver, but I’m happy,” he said.

He is a proud veteran, the bumper of his car tells his story as a Pittsburgh native who took up arms for his country, and who just so happens to be an Uber driver now.

“Before being in the military, I was just floating through life. When I got shot, it changed everything,” Cmar said. “I knew if I somehow survived until I retired, I’d be okay. And I was right.”

This piece is part of a project on Apocalyptic writing. It will be featured in a print magazine that will be presented at the 8th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, April 21, 2017 in the Center for Media Innovation on Point Park University’s campus. 

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