I was born in a small town called Terre Haute, Indiana, August 7, 1963. Was raised by my Grandmother until joining my Father once he had established himself on a good enough paying job in a city about three hours away called Dayton, Ohio. Early 1974. My Grandmother later joined us after my Dad was married and we were together again.
I enlisted on the delayed entry program during my senior year of high school with the United States Army and physically reported for duty September 15, 1981 for (BIT) Basic Individual Training located at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was the first time I’d been that far away from home, but there was no looking back because my signature was signed and the obligation was to now be fulfilled
After completing Basic Training I was sent on orders to Fort Eustis, Virginia located in the Newport News, Virginia area for my (AIT) Advance Individual Training for my (MOS) Military Occupational Specialty which was 61B10 Watercraft Operator which later changed to 88K.
I was learning basic seamanship because being a crew member on various types of marine vessels depending on the company I’d be assigned to was going to become my assignment. I was permanently stationed at Fort Eustis as a member of the 73rd Transportation Company.
“I am proud to have been a part of the Army’s best kept secret. Often we were referred to as the “Army’s Navy.”
As time passed by I tried out for a military unit known as the Fort Eustis Post Honor Guard. What was special about this group of soldiers, they were sharp, very polished and came from units base wide. It was very exciting to see them practice and have so much military bearing when entering the mess hall.
They were task with performing military and local parades all across the Virginia Peninsula and greater Tidewater region, to include drill teams events and competitions, marching units, retirement ceremonies, officer calls, the raising and lowering of the post flag seven days a week all dignitary events.
Their number one priority was paying last rites respects to the military soldiers that had departed this life, be it active, retired, or veteran status at their funerals, firing a 21 gun salute, folding of the American flag, and presenting it to the surviving family member or members.
After some very intense training and the overall transition itself I made the cut and was assigned until the units disbandment a few years later. I was personally hand picked to work with some statewide high schools assisting them with their drill and ceremonies, to include local colleges. This felt good to be recognized beyond the military base for my efforts and dedication to the program.
With the Honor Guard now a thing of the past, families within the surrounding Virginia area still put in request for their love ones to receive last rites entitlements from the military. I later was recruited to share my knowledge and became one of the instructors for the 10th Battalion Funeral Detail.
I trained officers and NCO’s at the time, so I was promoted to a corporal so that I at least had a little rank while among many whom had been in for years beyond my time. Life during the military at this particular time in my up and coming career was nothing short of being blessed.
I’ve personally participated in more than 3,000 military funerals and fulfilled countless other commitments task from post, group and battalion level commitments. I’ve earned many awards from the Army during this stage of my life. I spent eight years at Fort Eustis and the Newport New, Virginia region.
January 1990, I was sent on military orders to Fort Davis, Republic of Panama, to a unit known as 1097th Transportation Company Medium Boat Unit “Waterborne River Raiders.” It was named that because at the time the only vessels they had were Landing Craft Mechanized known as (LCM8′s). We had several that had been used during the Vietnam War in our current fleet.
I spent the first three days after entering the country over at Fort Clayton Army Base at the reception/processing center. I was later picked up by other 1097th soldiers and we traveled through what was known as the rain forest about an hour or more loaded down with weapons and live ammunition.
During that time all military personnel stationed in Panama was operating on threat level Charlie and had to be very careful and on alert of any up rising against Americans since earlier on December 20th 1989 the Invasion of Panama known as Operation Just Cause had taken place to capture then President Manuel Noriega, and things hadn’t totally settled down when I arrived into the country, and every precaution was taking to protect military soldiers.
While assigned with the Army in Panama I traveled back stateside and attended Basic Non Commissioned Officers Courses (BNOC) at United States Army Transportation Center, Fort Eustis, Virginia. One of our class assignments was to sail a 2000 class LCU to Baltimore and provide tours at the Inner Harbor.
I attended Tidewater School of Navigation in Norfolk, Virginia where I received my Raytheon Radar Observers Certification. I also was a part of teams that prepared vessels for shipment back to Fort Davis, and even was on a crew that sailed one of our fleet vessels back from the U.S. to Panama.
When available and not out on a military mission, I took time to attend classes for business management through Central Texas College whom had a satellite program set up on Fort Davis. I went on to take the Defense Mapping Agency Course, and the Drug and Alcohol Awareness Course both at Corazal, Panama.
I was chosen to become our company’s Drug & Alcohol Coordinator, responsible for performing urinalysis and assisting with putting out any information under the guidance of our company commander that would further educate everyone that was a member of our unit which consisted of more than 135 military members.
I’ve personally logged over 10,000 nautical miles sailing throughout the United States., Central and South American Theaters 100% accident and incident free, while jointly responsible for the well-being of crew-members, millions of dollars worth of cargo, and equipment. I held a secret security clearance and military passport during my tenure with the 1097th.
We later were renamed to the 1097th Transportation Company Composite Boat Unit, since we had acquired Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1600 and the newer (LCU) 2000 series added to our fleet of marine vessels.
Our Unit went on to receive the National Defense Transportation Award (NDTA) and it was presented to us by then (SOUTHCOM) Commander General Barry Richard McCaffery whom is now retired, and working with CNN as an Military Analyst.
I was a part of the life saving efforts of two Ecuadorian Sailors, when their cargo container ship capsized off the coast of Panama and our military unit, and the vessel I was assigned to, USAV LCU 1669 that was task with the mission to search and rescue them.
We found the Captain and Radioman on top of their turned upside down life rafts very dehydrated after three days of hot sun, choppy waters, and to top it all off, sharks had left bite marks in various areas on their life rafts, their food was floating along with several containers that had fallen over board during the accident.
The medical team that accompanied us made sure they were looked after, and that they were fed and given plenty of liquids until we made it back to Fort Sherman, Panama where another team of military medical personnel were standing by for our return.
While in Panama, the 1097th T.C. was everything to the country of Panama and more. Our unit was safe while in transit and produced rewarding results. We traveled to many villages, and performed humanitarian support on most of our voyages. The furthest I’ve personally sailed was to Suriname South America round trip. Along the way and during our return voyage, we docked in the countries of Trinidad & Tobago and Aruba.
Many times I’d been in rough sea’s for hours and then seen them brought to a calm. That’s just to let you know if you’re reading this article, I had to believe in something bigger than mankind in order to make it when scared in the big open waters with no land around for miles. I was with some brave soldiers each time I was at sea. We came back as we left always with everything in tact.
The key thing I learned during my rise up the military ranks from a private to a non-commissioned officer is a true leader is one whom is selfless not selfish, setting the example for others to follow. Never forgetting that no matter how successful one might become, you don’t make it all by your efforts alone. Helping others and building relationships along the way was the key to my success and more.
We functioned well as a team, though we came from different walks of life. A lot of time was spent at sea away from our personal families, so we were each others family once we got underway. I’m proud to say I served with such an awesome group of soldiers, and most of all the unit has made history time and time again, and what’s great I was a part of it during my last five years in the Army.
What made the boats that we had in our fleet so special was this. They could go places most military airplanes couldn’t land, and on any beach in the world. We were task with every kind of mission the powers that be could think of. But my favorite had to be lending support to the Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC) located at Fort Sherman, Panama, when 1097th was task with supporting their incoming cycles.
During my military career, I’ve received a good education, valuable training, numerous awards, accommodations, certifications, diplomas, certificates of appreciation, and so much more. I was approved to take a early voluntary separation, and exited the Army under Honorable conditions.
To this day there are no regrets and I haven’t looked back on the decision I made to end an illustrious military career. I’m forever fraternal and supportive to the men/woman whom served before, during, and after my departure, to include those whom are on active duty on American soil and abroad to this very day doing what it takes to continue having our freedoms. “Hooah”
I still keep up with many I served with at Fort Eustis, Virginia and Fort Davis, Panama, through social media, emails, and in person when I visit my family in the Newport News, Virginia area.
I was allowed to expand my horizons, grow from a boy that had never been far away from home whom grew up poor, was turned into a man. I’ve taken every attribute gained with me and applied it to my daily life. I’m living the old Army slogan adopted in 1981 “Be All You Can Be.” For me it all was an epic adventure. The military taught me that what others may seem to think is impossible, soldiers learn to create possibilities.
Thinking back I also had the opportunity to work with The Army Dive Unit during their evaluations in Panama City, Florida. I’d have to say I had a stellar career serving our country as a soldier.