Huntsville Center veterans share their stories to acknowledge Veterans Day

U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville
Published Nov. 6, 2014
Huntsville Center Commander Col. Robert Ruch 
(first row, center) takes a photo with veterans at the organization Nov. 5.

Huntsville Center Commander Col. Robert Ruch (first row, center) takes a photo with veterans at the organization Nov. 5.

Veterans at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville have served in different branches of services, different wars, and have different stories. They are a very diverse group of people who come from all walks of life, and represent every race, gender and ethnic group. They are the engineers, architects, program managers, project managers, lawyers, contract specialists, budget analysts and other careerists who serve as civilians and contractors on the various teams across Huntsville Center each day.

While few would argue Huntsville Center veterans deserve their thanks and gratitude for their service, many don't take time to hear their stories. To acknowledge Veterans Day, Center veterans from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines took time out of their busy schedules to share why they chose to serve.

Some veterans said military service gave them purpose.

"When I was in the fifth, grade a sergeant came to our school and gave a presentation. He had been stationed in Japan, and was dressed very professional and polished. I told myself then, 'I want to be like that.' Once I joined the Army, I stayed for sense of mission, the teamwork and motivated Soldiers around me, "said Russell Dunford, Executive Office.

"I always knew my future would involve military service. It was like a tradition in my family. My older brother served, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps. There's no feeling like the one you get when you put on that uniform. I was active duty Army for 13 years and have been in the Army Reserve for the past three years. I've had an amazing military career -I was assigned to Camp David, have eaten at the White House several times and taken photos with two U.S. presidents - not too bad for someone who grew up in south Alabama," said Wesley Malone, Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate.

"I served because it was a 'rite of passage' and an obligation. I served on active duty in the Army as an Engineer Officer for 23 years," said Byron Ferguson, Management Review Office said. "Moving to Huntsville in 2001 and serving at the Huntsville Center while still in uniform and now as a civilian is an important career milestone."

Other veterans said military service gave them a solid foundation.

"I entered the Army as a rebellious 17 year old who knew I was expected to go to college or do 'something' after I completed high school, so I chose the Army. What began as something to do until I was ready for college became a lifestyle. It does not take a Soldier long to realize that the benefits and opportunities given from the military can't be matched in the civilian sector. Throughout the years, my patriotism rose and serving my country became an honor for me," said Barbara Whitney, Executive Office.

"I grew up in a single-parent home. My mother passed away in my senior year of high school. When I went to college, I didn't have anyone to ensure that I stayed on track. I joined ROTC to get out of taking a swimming class. However, the program ended up providing me with the structure that I needed to get me through my college years. I retired from the Army as a colonel after 30 years service as an Engineer Officer and the Army eventually became my extended family," said Sharon Gresham, Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate.

Some joined the military to help fund their college education.

"I grew up in a family of eight kids. I was the son of a naval engineer who served in World War II. I was working as a geo-environmental science major at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania when I got a sneak peek of what the Army and engineering could offer me in the Cadet Troop Leader Training Program. I thought I'd only wear the uniform for four years, but am now at 27 years and counting," Col. Robert Ruch, Huntsville Center Commander said. "I'm proud to serve alongside the veterans here at the Center."

"I took the scenic route. I received an appointment letter to West Point along with six of my friends when I was in high school. I got cold feet and didn't join. They all did. I decided to become a welder and worked in the oil fields in New Mexico for several years. During a visit in 1980, my brother told me he wanted to join the Army so I took the aptitude and physical tests with him. He was disqualified due to a sports injury - I wasn't. I joined the enlisted ranks and was selected for one of 50 Army ROTC scholarships being offered to Soldiers a few years later. In 1990, I received my electrical engineering degree and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. I retired as a captain in 2005," said Robert Sanchez, ACE- Information Technology.

"I initially joined for the education benefits. My mother could not afford my college tuition. My intentions were to only join the Army for six years, pay my way through college and get out. It turned out to be a very challenging and exciting experience. I was in an Engineering Command and travelled to Germany seven times and Paris and Korea twice. I learned new things and met new people. This is why I stayed in for almost 23 years and retired as a sergeant first class. They were some of the best years of my life," said Donzia Clark-King, Resource Management Directorate.

Some veterans said military service gave them an opportunity to be a part of a team.

"I originally served in the military because my father was prior service. He served in the Air Force and talked about the unity and a lifelong camaraderie in the military. I wanted to experience this so I joined the Navy and served for six years. This was one of the most important decisions I've ever made. My father was right - it changed my life forever," said Brandy Wilkerson, Chemical Demilitarization Directorate.

"Although I'm glad to be an Army civilian now after 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I wouldn’t trade my experience in the military for anything. It taught me discipline and humility that I couldn’t have gained in any other occupation anywhere," said Darrell Walker, Contracting Directorate.

No matter the different circumstances that led to each Center veteran's decision to join the military, one thing was unanimous - they all said they were glad to have an opportunity to serve. It made a difference.

Paris Coleman, Contracting Directorate, summed up the sentiments of all the Center's veterans best.

"I'm proud to have served. Every day service members are out there putting their lives on the line for us to help preserve America's freedoms. I can't serve anymore due to a service connected disability. If that issue didn't exist, I'd enlist again - I'd do it ten times over if I could."