Monday, March 12, 2012

Retirement does not end the fire to continue to help Soldiers

I am often asked two questions the first being do I miss the Army. Do I miss the Army? The answer is “Yes” every day. It is not the institutional or organizational part of the Army that I miss what I miss is the Soldiers. I miss helping Soldiers resolve everyday problems, develop and grow personally and professionally, make a better life for themselves and their families. What many people don’t know about me is that I grew up in a single family home my mother would often work a day job and a night job, so our family time together was limited. We wore clothes from thrift stores and when school would start we would often see many kids getting new shoes and new clothes unfortunately we did not have many of these privileges. I saw the military as a way out of this life and as a way to better myself and learn those trades that would someday make me successful. I knew that in the military the only way to go was up and my potential was only limited to what I could and couldn’t do. So in 1989 I joined the Marine Corps and on June 5, 1989 I arrived at Marine Recruit Depot San Diego. For the next 13 weeks I learned teamwork, responsibility and how hard work would help me graduate and earn the honor to be called a Marine. I graduated and left to go to the School of Infantry where I was awarded the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 0311 Infantryman. My eight year career in the Marine Corps would take from serving in A Company 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Hawaii to Sea Duty aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

PVT Eugene Hicks MCRD, San Diego Sept 1989

In 1997 I joined the Army after a one hour break in service (long enough for me to drive from Camp Pendleton to the Army Recruiting office in Oceanside, Ca) and enlisted in the Army as an 11B. I would lose a rank going from a Sergeant (E-5) to Specialist (E-4). My first duty station Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. I had a great time and quickly went from Specialist to Staff Sergeant and served as a light infantry squad leader spending entirely too much time on the big island wearing out more boots than I care to remember. Over the years my service would take from Korea to Fort Lewis, WA serving with 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry "Deuce Four" as a Platoon Sergeant and ending my caeer as an Infantry First Sergeant (E-8) on March 31, 2011 with 1st Battlion, 17th Infantry Regiment.

Platoon Sergeant A Company 1st Battalion, 24th infantry Regiment Mosul, Iraq 2004-2005
The Soldier to my left Sgt. Robert T. Ayres III, 23, of Los Angeles, died Sept. 29 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq
A Company 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, FOB Frontenac, Afghanistan 2009 - 2010

So the second question I had told you about, how do you go from being an Infantry First Sergeant to being a social worker? This is a little easier to answer if you can believe that. I have begun to understand that there are many Veteran’s, Soldiers and family members that do not know how to ask for help. The stigma that is involved with seeking help because one does not want to appear weak is powerful still in today Army and as hard as the Army tries to change the perception the underlying current in the river is still prevalent with service members past and present. This has to be changed but how? It is Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors getting out there and when they see a member in crisis stepping and helping them find the help they need. It is directing them to people like me who can understand the things they saw in combat and how those feelings can be talked about in a manner that is therapeutic and helps in the recovery process.

I did one thing that I can only stress and did stress to all the Soldiers I came into contact with “GO TO SCHOOL”. No matter what you are doing make the time to attend a class here and there even if it is just one class twice a week make the time to attended. When I retired I had obtained my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology Degree from Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, WA and I was named a joint recipient of the Linda Fletcher Memorial Scholarship, a scholarship that is awarded to acknowledge and reward students who exhibit the special characteristics that are a part of the Saint Martin’s mission as well as help cultivate a strong community of learners among the University’s extension program students. I am now going through the admissions process at the University of Southern California for my Masters in Social Work where I will concentrate on learning how to deliver services such as mental health counseling, family therapy, crisis intervention, program development, and organizational consulting. My sub- concentration will be Military Social Work and Veteran Services which will prepare me to provide a full range of human services to the nation’s armed forces personnel, military veterans and their families. Had I not started and continued my education I can guarantee that my situation would be entirely different, especially in today’s economy. My success started when I went to the education office on post and asked for advice.
Saint Martin's University BA in Psychology

This is not why I write this post or do this blog to brag about what I have done but instead I write my story so that you know I am a true advocate for our warriors and my life was like many of yours but we have the power to shape our destiny and we have the power to help our fellow veterans. Thank you all for your dedication and care for our Soldiers. Remember the first step is yours!!!!

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