AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) – Beginning this month, WJBF NewsChannel 6 will honor a local veteran who is making a difference in our community with the “Salute To Service” award. Their stories will air on the third Wednesday of each month during WJBF NewsChannel 6 at 5:30.

Our first honoree is SFC (RET) John “Truck” Carlson of Augusta. You may have seen him on your screen before. He has appeared on WJBF many times over the years speaking on behalf of veterans.

“It’s nice knowing that people recognize,” Carlson said after receiving the award at ForcesUnited on Telfair Street in downtown Augusta. “It’s humbling.”

“Once you meet him, you love him,” said Jeri-Michel Duncah, the Annual Development Director and Carlson’s colleague at ForcesUnited. “You’ll never forget him. He brings out the best in people.”

“Being a Marine is the toughest thing you’ll ever do, the most challenging and most rewarding.” Carlson said. “I am who I am today largely due to the Marine Corps.”

Carlson spent four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He volunteered for the last three.

“In the Marine Corps. we have a saying, ‘Embrace The Suck’,” he said. “The reality of life is that sometimes it sucks. If you don’t embrace the suck it will embrace you around the throat.”

When asked about his best and worst moments during deployment, Carlson recalled the story of a baby girl brought to the field hospital where he served.

“Her name was Zahra,” he recalled. “She had been held by her mom when a bomb exploded, so she had shrapnel wounds.”

“I would sing her a song I sang to my son when he was a baby,” he said, fighting back tears. “And watching her day by day, that darkness in her eyes lifted. Being able to see that young life generate when nothing but death surrounded us, was one of the most wonderful and hurtful experiences I can imagine. I don’t know who it helped more, me or her.”

Nearly 7,000 miles separate Iraq from Augusta. For many veterans, the journey home seems much longer. 

“Yes, you’ve been through some horrible things,” Carlson said. “You have what it takes to move forward.”

“He’s been there. He’s experienced it. He’s battled it. So who better to guide us, to help our veterans than somebody like Truck who, unfortunately, has all that experience,” said Duncan.

After the wars, Truck settled at Fort Gordon to be closer to his son in Tennessee, and fell in love with our community. He volunteers at ForcesUnited. He is also the Program Director of Veterans for Clean Water, protecting the Savannah River for the more than 1.6 million people who depend on it, the way he once protected our freedom overseas.

“There are 60,000 vets that need to get their butts in a boat and experience that,” Carlson said of water testing on the Savannah. “One of the spouses of the veterans texted me and said, ‘You sent home a man I hadn’t seen in years’. They’ll talk more in an hour on the boat than they do in a week'”

“He’s still serving. He’s still on the battlefield,” Duncan said. “He puts himself out there to deflect harm away from people who wouldn’t be able to process it. To know how much pain he’s seen and to put himself in the line of fire to protect others is heroic.”

Carlson is rarely seen without his 9 year-old dog Emma, whom he rescued after seeing her get hit by a car. He also grows a long beard this time each year to prepare for the Holidays, when he brings Christmas cheer to kids across the CSRA as Santa Claus.

If you know a veteran deserving of our Salute To Service, click here to fill out the nomination form.

To watch the entire conversation with Mr. Carlson, click below: