Happy Veterans Day! It’s the perfect day to feature my next interview with a soldier. Today, meet Dwayne. We met in fifth grade but he moved away a couple of years later. We reconnected last year on Facebook. Oh, how I love Facebook. He’s been very helpful and encouraging as I’ve tossed my military questions his way during my book research. He was also the first boy who ever called me on the phone. My dad demanded that Dwayne call him Sir (ironic?), told him it was past my bedtime (9 p.m.), and that I couldn’t talk. I was mortified. To my delight, Dwayne still talked to me the next day.
Jody: Since we were friends in junior high, would you care to share any memories of our friendship from the awkward years?
Dwayne: Actually, we were close friends in 5th and 6th grade, then I moved. I don’t remember any specific stories (except one, but that’s between us). I remember being in a lot of classes together, being in school plays, and I went to your house for dinner at least once. Sorry, memory has suffered much damage since then.
Jody: I know exactly what story you’re keeping secret and I thank you. Sitting behind you in Mister Everson’s math class will always be a potent memory. And so will singing, “Frankly Franklin!” in Mr. Chubb’s class. Now, on to the military questions! Please tell us what branch and why you chose it. Why the military?
Dwayne: During my junior year of high school, I originally chose to join the Air Force; however, have recently switched to the Army. The reason for the military, in general, was partly a fear of a lack of finances for school and feeling that I was much more in need of life experience than a degree could ever provide. Not to mention that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do if I had gone to school. Specifically, the Air Force came from some classes I had the luck to have that focused around flying, airports, etc. I enjoyed the subject matter and liked the opportunities available through the Air Force. Since then, I have recently transferred to the Army as my growth opportunities became increasingly slim on the Air Force side. At this point in my life and career, it makes the most sense for the direction I wish to head.
Jody: Enlisted or officer? Explain your job.
Dwayne: In the Air Force, I was enlisted with two different careers over my 16 years. I first joined as an Aircraft Armament Systems Craftsman and this entailed working on the entire weapons systems on any aircraft in the Air Force inventory; everything from the pilot’s finger to the bombs and bullets. It required everything from electronic aptitude to just straight brute force. I worked specifically on A-10’s and F-15’s and traveled all around the world many times. After about 14 years of that I switched to Information Management. This brought me indoors working on computer software and hardware, various computer systems, record systems, web management and administration, and much more. Now that I’m with the Army, my new job will be Military Intelligence Officer once I finish Officer Candidate School. This will include participating and managing intelligence operations of human intelligence gathering, imagery analysis, cryptography, and other related actions.
Jody: Active now? When and how long did you serve?
Dwayne: I spent my first 6 years active duty stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona and Spangdahlem AB in Germany. I then switched to the Air National Guard in Jacksonville, Florida and Knoxville, Tennessee till this past summer. I am now temporarily with an Army Guard unit in Boone, North Carolina. During my time with the guard, I have spent many days on Active duty due to trips to the Middle East and after September 11th.
Jody: What was the hardest part about boot camp? Best part?
Dwayne: The shock is the hardest part; the shock of being away from home for the first time and of military life. Best part was the bonding experiences. For us, the only way to have any type of socialization with others outside our flight was to go to church. The chaplains made it a fun get-a-way from the stresses back in the dorms. Of course mail was an invaluable luxury too.
Jody: Do you have any funny stories from your military experience that you can share?
Dwayne: It isn’t a matter of remembering one specific one, but being able to share does throw a wrench in the process. No one big story really stands out, but day to day life needed to be broken-up often by little things. Any day that goes by with a practical joke is a good one, no matter how small. Even the simplest jokes of blocking a co-workers truck tires, grease marker on sunglasses, and doing all you can to haze the new people went far and took away from the mundane environment that can bring you down if you take it too seriously. It is the job that must done seriously and professionally.
Jody: Have you experienced combat?
Dwayne: Luckily only indirectly so far, but am excited about the prospect of going in to direct operations. With the Air Force, I sent my pilots in to harm’s way with the systems I maintained and the weapons I loaded.
Jody: How many places have you lived and which has been your favorite?
Dwayne: Lived…two while on active duty and as I mentioned before they were in Arizona and Germany. Living in Europe has been, by far, the best experience in the military as well as my life. The close proximity to places like Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin was amazing; as well as the overall culture and history. As far as travelling with the military though, my favorite has been Iceland.
Jody: How has serving in the military changed you the most?
Dwayne: It helped me most noticeably increase my levels of respect, leadership, courage, management, ability to handle stress, and so much more. I gained intangibles that really cannot be taught, but must be experienced and developed over time. I have been given opportunities that never would have been imaginable without my service.
Jody: Is there anything else you want to tell us about military life or service?
Dwayne: Service is the highest honor of any culture throughout time. The men and women that serve, no matter their personal reason, are protectors of all aspects of life. They preserve peace, enforce laws, and defend human dignity. Deep down, we in the military are honored more to make such sacrifices than any civilian may be honored by what we do for them.
Jody: Dwayne, thank you for this interview and thank you for your service to our country.