A humble leader, Nederland’s Bill McComber talks military, scouting

Published 12:32 am Sunday, July 2, 2023

NEDERLAND — As leader of Nederland Scouts Troop 232, Bill McComber works to instill principles and skills in the youth that will help them in adulthood.

McComber, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Army mostly as a combat medic, doesn’t rule with a heavy hand or require his Scouts to stand at attention like in the military. His leadership as scoutmaster is about respect and giving opportunities to succeed and permission to fail.

As a group, McComber focuses the Scouts on first aid and dealing with the weather and nature, he said.

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“Because regardless of what’s going on, you can’t change the weather,” McComber said. “And to always be ready or at least try to be ready with first aid. Because you never know what’s going to happen around you.”

But there’s more.

Always be a helping hand or at least try, he said.

“I try to instill lifting each other up instead of putting each other down,” he said. “Now don’t get me wrong, they’re a bunch of boys. They clown around. But I try to make it very clear that we do not put each other down.”

McComber’s military life reads like an action novel but he, by no means, glorifies it. Instead he speaks matter-of-factly.

Born in Fort Worth on an Air Force Base, McComber  grew up in different parts of the U.S. including Guam. Back on the mainland his family settled in the Fort Worth-area in the town of Azle, where he graduated from. He enlisted in the Army at the age of 17.

He hoped to drive tanks but on his way to basic training was told he was needed as a medic.

He spent three years in Germany and had a chance to visit every European country he could. When he returned to the States he met the woman who would be his wife, Denise.

“We got married and I was transferred to Korea,” he said as Denise reminded him the transfer was “unaccompanied,” meaning she was left behind. “I think it’s an Army joke that as soon as you get married you are transferred.”

The newly married couple had a heart-to-heart talk. He was six years into his career and it was either reenlist and go to Korea or get out of the Army.

“What direction do you want to take, and he said when I get to do my job, I like it. I want to keep doing it. So we said we’ll make it work,” Denise McComber said.

McComber was stationed in an area near the demilitarized zone when 9/11 happened. His wife was visiting at the time and the camp went on lock down.

After Korea came a stint in Kansas, then rumors swirled of an invasion of Iraq.

“I came home and I said, look, I’m going to tell you every single thing I know. Don’t ask me any questions because I don’t know the answers. I’m leaving in two weeks,” he said.

He ended up in the northern part of Bagdad. The military built infrastructure and his job was medical support for the entire area. They set up a first aid station and treated minor injuries here and there and one time went to a local dental clinic and gave money to the people that needed dental help.

They did security at a pediatric hospital in downtown Baghdad, just to make sure the area was safe. Sometimes they would pull security at a local school once the infrastructure was up.

But halfway through the year he was moved to another task; to introduce the new arrivals of life in Baghdad, he said.

Later in his career he was stationed in Taji, Iraq, where he was told the company’s mission was to look for bombs. He realized he would be of better use inside a tank, where he could take part of the duties in the tank and be a medic.

If no one was injured, he was part of the tank crew but if there were injuries, he was to fall back on medical duties and take care of all the guys around, or looking for people, he said.

His company patrolled the streets every single day, back and forth looking for bombs.

“And the only way you really find a bomb is when it blows up in your face. So we’ve been hit. I don’t know how many hundreds of times each one of us had a personal rule that we stopped counting after 10,” he said. “So luckily, we’re inside the tanks. So the tanks can take a beating. As long as you’re not face to face with them.”

But there are two people that hang out the top of the tank, he added.

“Our company has the highest purple heart rate than any other company out there at that time due to issues like that,” he said.

There was a joke among the soldiers to “be on the lookout for snipers,” he said with a half hearted chuckle. The sniper in this case was very professional and would shoot people in the face or the chest. McComber lost friends to the sniper and one day he was shot as well.

He got out of the tank to get food and water for the rest of the crew when he was hit in the leg. He ended up diving back into the tank, worried the bullet had struck an artery.

He was taken out in a helicopter, but after being treated he was asked to go back.

“After I was treated they decided they didn’t want to send me home because it was too much of a morale booster,” he said. “The sniper had done so much damage in our area, there were only two of us still alive. We’ve had so many people injured and killed that I was informed that seeing me walk around would be a morale boost ,and I said okay, I can’t really walk but I’ll try.”

Later in his career he was stationed in Alaska, his second son was born and a new clinic was being built there.

There was no maternity leave for spouses, and one day a civilian friend of Denise said she didn’t understand why her husband wasn’t at home where she needed him.

Denise’s answer was straight forward.

“I said I know where he is. Every night. I know exactly where he is. Even if he’s not in my bed. I know where he is and that He is in a much safer place than he was two years ago,” Denise said. “And it took her a minute to realize what I was saying and when she clicked it was like oh, okay.”

After his time in the military the family moved to Nederland to be near family and he found himself in a career he didn’t expect.

“So I was a combat medic for 20 years and I swore up and down that when I got out of the military, I’d never do anything medical ever again. Because I was done with that part,” he said.

Then a job opened up with angio screening at The Medical Center of Southeast Texas.  He later moved to a job with a local podiatrist and then Golden Triangle Foot and Ankle.

Now, looking at his career and his current work with youth, McComber doesn’t see himself as a role model.

“I just try to do the right thing,” he said. “I tried to tell the kids that no matter what you do, you will fail. And it’s okay to fail. Because you’re human. And look at me. I have failed. I don’t know everything that I’ve tried., I’ve failed. And I’m still here. Apparently it didn’t kill me. So you guys can still do what you’re doing.”