Veteran | 12 years in the Army
What was your role while you were in the Army?
I had a unique role as a health inspector. We work at what they called 91 Sierra. It’s just the number for the particular job I had. The name was preventive medicine. It was born out of the Vietnam eras where they had many different things that they needed a health inspector to inspect: one was entomology (bugs). So that if a group of soldiers went into a certain area, they wouldn’t encounter mosquitoes and get malaria– things like that. We would in the desert go out and check to make sure there weren’t any things in the sand because they’re things that can live in the sand forever, that would hurt soldiers. So all is pretty much a health inspector. We inspected hospitals, dining facilities, and we collected bugs to make sure we could be prepared if anybody got sick.
How did you get into that field?
I’d love to tell you it was a great romantic story, but bottom line, I was in New York City, and I knew I needed to get out of New York City, or I was going to get in trouble, and I went to the recruiter, and he told me about it. It looked great. That was pretty much it. I think the thing that attracted me was disease investigation. For example, if I were on active duty right now, we would be the front line for the Coronavirus because that would stop soldiers from doing their job proficiently.
Did you choose to be in that field, or how did that happen?
That’s why most people hate their recruiters because what they do is they get you into a job that they need. It’s called the need of the Army, not what you want. So I pretty much just said yes and asked, “Will this get me out of New York City?” and he said, “Your first duty station will be Germany.” Anybody who has been to Germany, especially soldiers, love it, and I was sold, and that’s what I did. I did my basic at Fort Sam in San Antonio, Texas. I loved Fort Sam and the Riverwalk, and I loved going to Germany.
What is the biggest lesson that you learned when you were in the military?
Something I’ve learned over a little bit of time is how you treat people is probably the most important thing you’ll ever do. People will forget your name. They’ll forget your phone number. They’ll forget your address. But no one will ever forget how you treated them. So in my encounters, sometimes I’d have to tell some people some bad things like they had a sexually transmitted disease. Yeah, we were those guys but did the intake for that and other hospital types of things where you’d have to tell a patient that they are not getting good news. So I learned to be patient as much as possible and treat everyone as I would wish to be treated.
Was that something that was part of you before you joined?
You know, I learned it from my mother. It was cool when anyone would come over to our home; my mother would fix them a plate, give them a cloth napkin and silverware and a nice plate and a nice glass. And I’ll never forget it at her funeral that was the constant note that she treated people that made them feel like kings and queens. So it was kind of in me but manifested through my relationships with my mother and then Aunt Rosa and other people that came into my life. They were just kind people with a lot of grace. We were brought up to learn to serve naturally, trying to be an example after Dr. King and after Aunt Rosa people like that, you know, they humbly did their job not being loud and overt like I am sometimes.
Do you have a family background in the military?
Yes, my father served in the United States Army. That’s a great story because he went in as an educated black man. He had his Doctorate in Education. So what happened was they made him in charge of all the other black soldiers. The point is that he proved to me that if you get your education, you can pretty much do anything like that. An old saying was a teacher can drive a taxi, but a taxi driver could not get out and teach at a college level. So he and you pushed me very hard to get my education and get my degree. So that was pretty much expected in our family.
Would you say that the Army made you a better person?
No question. It made me a better man. It made me a better human being. It made me a better black man because I understand the pressures that a man of color is under, but you can learn to survive and then transmit that same learning into the public in that system. As men of color, we are looked at differently, you know, I’ve lived a life of when I walk; women would clutch their purses when they walk by new. You’re not getting an elevator if I was in the elevator things like this, but you learned that okay. That is the playing field. That is the game we’re playing. I understand, so you just helped me to learn how to make a better life here in the environment of the United States of America.
What’s your perspective on patriotism as a black man?
We went to war, but I went to war for my family and me more than I did the United States. Not that I am not a patriot. I bleed red, white, and blue, but I understand that we are not treated equally as black men. So my focus was to do a good job in the military to come out and have a good job and a good life for my family. But very sincerely, when I first went in, I was still being called the n-word. I was treated differently from my other white soldiers, and I just understood that, so I had to act accordingly. It is what it is; it got me what I want. I wanted to go in and get a medical degree. I wanted to see the country. I mean, I went to the Holy Land on Uncle Sam’s dime. You can’t make that up. I got to Germany on Uncle Sam. I mean, I went to Holland, Egypt, Israel. So the Army did me good, and I got what I went in to get.
What was your experience transitioning from active duty to civilian life?
It’s pretty hard. It usually takes you about two to three years to calm down and understand that in the real world, things don’t go precisely, you know, there’s a lot of passing the buck for buying the military you don’t do that if you’re given a job, you’re going to do it. Period.
What? Do you think people should consider before they decide to serve their country?
Do they have the heart to serve? Are you a person that if they told you to go out and dig a ditch, you would go out and start digging and not say anything? because you’re going to be asked, but it’s going to make a better man of you. So before you go in, talk to a soldier, find out everything you need to know, and then make your decision.