How Travis Fratis found himself in Iraq |

How Travis Fratis found himself in Iraq

Chad lundquist/Nevada Appeal Travis Fratis, 21, holds at his home Tuesday an Iraqi flag signed by fellow platoon members while on duty for the U.S. Army in Iraq.

When Travis Fratis joined the Army three years ago, it was an escape.

Back then, he was a high-school dropout, a thief and a drug user. Then one day he disappeared. Sheri and Rick Fratis didn’t see their son for three days. When the 18-year-old reappeared, Deputy Rudy Hindelang caught him “right before he went off the deep end.”

The sheriff’s deputy said he was faced with a teen who was depressed, upset about a breakup with his girlfriend and convinced his life was going nowhere. The conversation was several years ago, but Hindelang still remembers almost every word.

“He was a troubled youth,” Hindelang said. “He was lost in the world. He needed a sense of direction. I spent an hour-and-a-half explaining life in general. He said he had ruined his life because he had dropped out of school. He wanted to join the Marines, but he couldn’t do that. He wanted to be in law enforcement, but he couldn’t do that. I asked him – why not join the Army?”

Fratis followed Hindelang’s advice about a week later. Fratis said he decided to join the Army because it offered him more choices in job selection with his GED. His options might have been more limited in the Marines.

Hindelang gave him a present, a shirt marked by a message: “Travis, never forget your home, and we have your six.” The deputies signed it. Hindelang tore the Carson City’s sheriff’s emblem off his left sleeve and told Fratis it would keep him safe.

In September 2005, Fratis left for Iraq, carrying with him the emblem. He put it in his body-armor vest.

For the first five month he ran two missions a day, up to 10 hours a day on his feet in hot weather. His first raid was at the home of a man known for distributing improvised explosive devices.

Iraq gave him best friends, and then took them away. Out of his platoon of about 30, seven soldiers were killed, the most of any during that deployment. He recorded the deaths in his journal. All of them were his friends. He knew about their families and how many children they had.

“My gut cringed every time I heard that we lost another soldier from Nevada,” Hindelang said. “I would feel responsible. He was so gung-ho. He would do anything. I wrote his lieutenant and asked him to keep an eye on him. He was front in line, wanting to do everything.”

The new soldier had taken his words to heart. Fratis wanted to control his destiny.

“From the time he went into the Army to now, he’s matured 10 years. He’s self-sustaining,” said Rick Fratis, his father, a truck driver for Cinderlite Trucking.

Fratis turned in his application for law enforcement academy this past week.

He wants to join the Carson City Sheriff’s Department, which he sees as having saved his life in a lot of ways.

Fratis, who earned medals for services performed above the call of duty, formed what he calls brotherhoods with other soldiers. So much so that he feels like he’s neglecting them by coming home. He won’t return because of Amanda and his mother. They asked him not to re-enlist. His family is all he has now.

“I have no more friends because they’re still doing their thing that I had been doing,” he said. “I’m one of the few that got pulled out of it.”

Fratis’ cap of dark brown hair has grown longer since leaving the Army. He’s barrel chested, and sheepishly admits he’s gained some weight since leaving Iraq six months ago.

His wife, 20-year-old Amanda Fratis, is a much better cook than the military, he said.

Fratis, 21, said he can see both sides of the Iraq debate, the wisdom of being a “big brother” and helping democracy form in a fledging nation, but also the irritation of helping a country that doesn’t seem like it wants to be helped.

Since returning his eyes dart to dangers along the road, around the room. But despite all this, he was saved. He may have left Iraq, but Iraq doesn’t leave the soldier too easily.

Deputy Hindelang saw it recently when he took Fratis to lunch.

“He was looking at boxes on the side of the road, I asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘I can’t break myself. I’m looking for bombs. In trash, in a car that’s broken down on the side of the street. That’s the way I have to look at everything.’ “

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.

War and its effects

Maturing through military service is one positive outcome, said former Marine and Methodist minister Bill McCord, 77.

“While one is in the military, one does mature and begins to see some of what’s important in life,” said McCord, who served in Korea for a year. He joined at 20. “I had many friends wounded and killed while I was in Korea. It really, for me, put life into perspective, what was important, what wasn’t important. For me there are no big problems. There are only little ones. For me those are not life and death matters.”

Partly because of his military service, McCord joined the call to ministry. He’s now a pacifist. He saw people profiting off that war, for which the military members gave their lives.