Army veteran to push van, car together in third annual fundraiser

By ALI BRABOY | Daily Gazette, Sterling, Ill. | Published: July 11, 2017

STERLING, Ill. (Tribune News Service) — If there's one thing Chris Dever isn't afraid of, it's pushing himself.

The Sterling man and Army veteran pushed himself in Panama, training for jungle warfare. He pushed himself on the battlefields of Mogadishu, Somalia, where an enemy round nearly took his life. And he pushed himself when he returned home, this time on a private battlefield, waging a personal war against post-traumatic stress disorder.

This fall, he'll push himself again, this time for a Dixon homeless shelter.

Dever, 45, will get behind a car and a van together on Sept. 30 to see how far his muscles can move them to raise money for PADS during his third annual Mogadishu Mile Car Push, details of which have yet to be set.

In 2015, he pushed a Toyota Tacoma a mile near the Brandywine Inn, and last year he upped his game, shoving a 3-ton van a mile at the Dixon Municipal Airport.

It's been a long road for the one-man Morrison-born moving crew, from soldier to civilian, and those last few miles haven't been easy, but he's been at it a long time and he's not about to give up now.

The Prophetstown High School graduate signed up for the service when he was 17, the latest in a long line of family members to march into the military. His father, Robert Dever, his dad's parents, Morris and Dolores Dever of Prophetstown, and his other grandfather, Robert Hunter of Jonesboro, Arkansas, were veterans, as were many of his uncles and cousins.

"I dreamed about that ever since I was little boy," Dever said. "I knew that's what I was going to do."

Dever served from 1990 to 1994 in Fort Drum, New York, in the Army's 2-14 Infantry 10th Mountain Division. During that time, he also did tours of duty in Panama, Cuba, and Somalia, as well as service stateside. He was a team leader, trained for jungle warfare, was part of a Quick Reaction Force, and helped oversee the transfer of

Haitian refugees to Guantanamo Bay. His rank was E-4.

He was often the man who would go into a mission first, referring to himself as "the door-kicker."

"I don't know if they were trying to kill me, or if they believed in me," he said of his commanders.

It was during a combat tour in Mogadishu, when he was part of the Quick Reaction Force, that war became hell for Dever.

His battalion was in Somalia on Sept. 13, 1993, about 3 weeks before the Battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down, when Dever found himself in a sniper's cross hairs. The bullet ripped a hole between his ribs, stopping about an inch from his spine.

"We were so pinned down. They couldn't just get me out of there," he said. "I almost bled to death."

Eventually, though, they did, and doctors operated on him inside a tent hospital. He later was awarded a Purple Heart.

Before then, his plan had been to re-enlist and stay in the service for 20 more years, but Sept. 13 changed all that. He told himself, "I think I'm done. I think I've had enough."

It took nearly a year and a half stateside to get back to 100 percent -- or as close as he could.

Dever still keeps in contact with his brothers in arms.

Back around 2006, members of his battalion started reaching out to one another another on Facebook. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, and he plans to go to Fort Drum for a reunion.

Some of his former battalion buddies also will be on hand for the PADS fundraiser. One of them, singer and songwriter J.T. Cooper of Nashville, will perform.

"I loved being in the service. You form bonds with these guys that can never be broken," Dever said. "You don't find that in the civilian world very much."

He still is forming bonds, even as a civilian. In 2016, he loaned his Purple Heart to WWII Army veteran Charles Brall of Rock Falls, who was supposed to get one years ago, but was short-changed when the government ran out of them during the war, then just never sent him one.

The Army was notified that year, and one was supposed to be on the way, but it still hasn't arrived, said Dever, who still chats with Brall every once in a while.

Dever did various jobs after the service. "It took me a long time to get my head straight after that," he said.

Today, he's the owner of Funky Monkey Detailing, an auto detailing service in Rock Falls that he opened about 4 years ago, and he enjoys spending time with his two daughters, Chelsie, 8, and Mallory, 11.

Amazing Grace church, where's he's been a member for 19 years, has been a crucial part of his recovery from PTSD, he said. Being part of a church that's like a "big, loving family" has allowed him to do work for others.

In a few months, that work will pit him against tons of steel in a battle where he'll be armed with nothing more than pure muscle and willpower, but if the past is any indication of the future, when push comes to shove, Dever won't let himself -- or others -- down.

(c)2017 the Daily Gazette (Sterling, Ill.)
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