I stand as a witness that you never know what life will hand you and you must be willing to take a chance to explore. I always wanted to do something different, see the world and have “adventures.” To do those things takes a job and money. Although the military did not pay well, it offered the benefit to allow me to build upon my education while getting paid. “At no time do I plan to stay more than four years in the military,” I thought. No way was I going to be a “lifer.” It probably took 13 years before I realized, I was a lifer and would retire from the Army.
I started my career out as a Target Acquisition Specialist, supporting the Field Artillery with targeting data to fire and counter fire on enemy targets. Since my early years in the military were during the Cold War, the enemy was the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. From training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, I transferred to Fort Polk, Louisiana. It was wonderful to experience the people, culture, and food in this part of the country. I enjoyed my time traveling from Baton Rouge to Houston, with a trip to New Orleans thrown in.
From Cajun Country, I transferred to Baumholder, Germany, which was referred to as “The Rock.” Baumholder is set in the wooded hills of the Western Palatinate in the German federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz. At Baumholder I was assigned to the Division Artillery, 8th Infantry Division. I took part in numerous training exercises in Baumholder, Grafenwöhr, and Hohenfels training areas. Still, even while on bivouac and military maneuvers, in my 3 years in Germany, I got to see a lot of the country. This was my first time out of the United States and the chance to see Europe. I traveled around what was then West Germany and East Germany, and to Spain and France. As much as I loved the “bier,” the biggest highlight of this tour was meeting my wife, Susanne. While TDY to Munich I met the person that would one day become my wife. She showed me the beauty of hiking the Bavarian countryside, museums, and historical places. Having someone to show me the historical and cultural parts of Germany enhanced my European experience.
I left Germany, reenlisted, and married Susanne. My new wife and I headed to Fort Stewart, Georgia, which is located 42 miles southwest of Savannah. At that time, Fort Stewart was the home of the 4th Infantry Division (Pathfinders). Interesting area but I wanted more. With the support of my wife, I volunteered for Airborne Training, with the knowledge that upon completion of the training, I would relocate to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Airborne training checked another accomplishment from my bucket list. I always wanted to parachute but never had the opportunity to attend a civilian school. The Army sent me to Fort Benning, Georgia to Airborne School (aka Jump School) to become a paratrooper. The training was one of the most physically challenging military schools I have attended. It was three weeks of jumping off four-foot platforms, the Swing Land Apparatus, a 34 foot tower, and then from an aircraft in flight. Jumping out of an aircraft is not a natural act and I thought I would freeze in the door. But on jump day, with the command of the Jumpmaster, I pushed out into open space and could hear my parachute opening. It was surreal as it opened and I floated to earth. Besides this new skill, I left Airborne School with the knowledge that there is nothing wrong with being afraid. It is important on how you adjust to your fears. You can quit and run, or stay the course and give all you’ve got. This is a lesson that stayed with me forever.
After Airborne School, my wife and I moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I was assigned to 18th Corps Artillery. New paratroopers are referred to as “cherries.” This is because the maroon berets we wore made our heads look like maraschino cherries, and new recruits arrive with only 5 jumps to their credit. Walking across the parking lot with my maroon beret, bare of unit flash and crest, I stood out as fresh out of school. A kid no more than 6 years old stuck his head out of a car window and screamed at me, “Cherry! You are nothing but a Cherry! Hey Cherry!” His mom tried to pull him back into his seat, but she was laughing. I just dropped my head and shuffled off to meet my new Commander and First Sergeant. Afterward, I went to the Military Clothing Sales store to purchase the required pieces for my headgear.
I love the physical aspects of an Airborne unit. I love the adrenaline rush from jumping out of a C-130 or C-141 during daylight, nighttime, with or without equipment. No Airborne Operation was quite the same as another, and each one provided a great story to share. However, I knew that I needed to change career fields, and I could not remain a paratrooper. I began to look into other military specialties in the Army and decided to shift into the Military Intelligence Corps.
I graduated from the Order of Battle Analyst Course at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and from the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey California. Since this was still during the Cold War, the Order of Battle emphasized Soviet War Tactics and my targeted foreign language was Russian. Upon completion of those courses I again transferred to Germany. This time, 56 Field Artillery (Pershing), in Schwäbisch Gmünd of the Baden-Württemberg region. Living off base helped my German language skills. To my surprise there was a strong community of Russians and East Europeans in the town, so my conversational Russian got better. It was great fun to drop into Russian language and leave my German friends out of conversations.
Because of the pending Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers were to be destroyed and units disbanded. After three years with the organization, I was with the 56th Field Artillery (Pershing) as the colors were rolled up and the organization disbanded. Both my wife and I wanted to stay in Germany a little longer. My Airborne qualification came in handy as I was able to land a position with the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces, Bad Tölz, located in Bavaria. This was a perfect location for my wife since her family lived in Bavaria. I loved the region for the people, food, “bier,” and just a short drive to the Alps. However, the big Army had other plans for the 1st Battalion, 10th SFG. The organization left Flint Kasern, Bad Tölz for Panzer Kasern, Böblingen. Not a bad place, as it was close to U.S. European Command, Patch Barracks and the city of Stuttgart. Plus, once again, I was on Airborne status and doing great and wonderful things with the Special Forces.
After three years, it was time to move again. Because of my association with Special Forces, my Army Branch manager wanted to send me to a Special Forces group, but back to Fort Bragg too. Luckily for me, while TDY to Turkey, a captain from 10th Special Forces, Fort Devens expressed that he was impressed with my work for Operation Provide Comfort. He asked me to come with the 10th Special Forces as it moved from Massachusetts to Fort Carson, Colorado. This was the kind of move my wife and I wanted. I accepted it and transferred to Fort Carson. One of the big things to happen in Colorado was the birth of my daughter, Julia. Definitely a sign to slow down. Another great achievement for me was to become an Army Jumpmaster, leading Airborne Operations. So, it seemed a lot of little things came full circle.
As my military career was coming to an end, I knew I had to prepare for civilian life. The years of physical work and hard exercise to stay in shape were taking a toll on me. As I was in the S-2 (Security), computer security was part of my additional duties. I quickly saw how computers were becoming part of society and the workforce. From my introduction to computers with field artillery calculations, then office productivity classes and basic programming, to computer security, I knew I had to learn more about them. I worked to earn my Masters in Computer Resource Management and prepared for the non-military world. It was a big transition because corporate America did not care if I was Airborne Qualified, a Jumpmaster, or attended survival school. I grew myself into an Information Assurance (aka Cyber Security) expert. Technical experience, management skills as an Army leader, and care of people ensure employment.
In the last twenty years as a DOD contractor, I have worked for five different companies, and have only changed for contractual changes or commuting issues. Fate led me to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Colorado Springs office, which was a perfect position. A three-mile commute and doing cyber security work for the Intelligence Community. The company I joined was a big company and you could see that in the levels of management before anything was approved. I took the position, knowing the contract was up for bidding in 8 months, but my new company could not bid on it. I was determined to make myself valuable to the current company and DIA, so whoever won might offer me a position.
Of all the companies that submitted bids, I am very fortunate Invictus International won. It is a small company, but growing, with 70% former military. The company is still at a level that everyone knows my name and I can reach across management for questions or just to say hello. The company reaches out and acknowledges good work, achievements, and recognition from customers, peers, and management. From phone calls or personally written cards from the CEO, to calls from program managers, Invictus does not hold back on recognition to its people. I am one of the Plank Holders with this new company and have witnessed how the company has grown but never loses sight of their valuable assets, which are its people. They treat the people with respect and allow them to grow and do their jobs. I was honored when the Program Manager asked me to become the Lead for Western Information System Security Management Team. For me, it showed me that the company recognized my work experience, leadership and management skills, as well as my background.
The high number of people with military background brings something special to the company. Veterans steeped with strong values, a belief in duty and honor. Invictus cultivates that lifestyle and it is evident in the performance of the workers and their contentment. I love the company and am happy to be a part of the team.
My appreciation of the military has taught me to give back or pay it forward. Injuries from training and aging led me to find outlets to keep a high level of fitness. I stumbled into yoga and discovered it could be a medium to help others as well. Just as Invictus looks out for veterans by providing job opportunities, I share the gift of yoga with the Veterans.