Jumping Back In – How an Old Paratrooper Became a Soldier Again After 30 Years in Corporate America

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Back in the day – 1985, to be exact. I joined the Army and became a young, enthusiastic paratrooper who was totally convinced of not only my own superiority, but also my invulnerability. Aren’t all 20-something paratroopers going to live forever? I very much enjoyed my time in the Army, and nearly three years in what was at the time West Germany. A few years later, I had planned to reenlist, but the thought of not being with my aging parents brought me back home and into the WV National Guard near the end of the 1980s.

Although being in the Guard was a great way to get my “soldier fix”, fairly soon I realized that I had been quite spoiled in Germany. There were many incredible soldiers in my guard unit, but it wasn’t the same as my previous active-duty unit, and so, not really for me after all. So, I got out of the National Guard, and after a few false starts, completed my college degree and settled into the comfortable life as an IT Manager for a mid-sized local company. A company which was later purchased by a massive global one who wanted to use me in an expanded role. OK, so the bread and butter is taken care of, but what about the beans and bullets?

Fast forward to 2019 and I’m still with the same company, but over the last 10 years or so, I have realized how much I missed that soldier fix. Naturally, I realized this after I was too old to go back in the Guard and finish my 20 years prior to age 60. Then one day, I learned of the existence of State Guard units. Unlike many states, West Virginia does not have an official militia, but just a few miles across the border, Virginia does. The Virginia Defense Force is one of the three official military organizations in the commonwealth; along with the VA National Guard, and the VA Air National Guard. The VDF is actively recruiting, and even accepts those from border states with no state guard of their own.

So, the next hurdle was age. As an old fart, am I ineligible to become a part of this organization? The short answer is nope! Soldiers can join up to the age of 65. Score!!! So, with all the paperwork filled out and background check completed, I was sworn in back in July 2019 at the same rank I held upon ETS. Drill days are one Saturday a month, and instead of a two-week summer camp, the VDF masses for multi-unit training over three-day weekends roughly once per quarter. Mobilization can only take place within the Commonwealth of Virginia at the direction of the governor.

My first drill, at the Cedar Bluff, VA NG Armory/Readiness Center, and being back among the ranks of other soldiers, was rather like shaking hands with an old friend. And, being back in uniform – still Woodland camo pattern, by the way – felt as natural as it did foreign. By the end of the drill, it was almost as if I hadn’t actually been out of uniform all these years. The following month at Ft. Pickett, we conducted force-wide training and regimental reorganization. We’re talking staying in the barracks, formations, chow-hall food, training. The works! But, thankfully no PT. Score again!!!

The mission of the VDF can be distilled down to supporting the National Guard, FEMA and possibly Homeland Security with disaster relief operations. The two primary MOSs in the VDF are communications and security. A huge push for excellence has been placed upon both specialties and my role, security, is actively undergoing drastic changes for the better, in accordance with our new organizational structure.

So, for anyone who might have left the military too soon and now regrets it, perhaps the VDF is for you. Likewise, those who might not have had, or taken, the opportunity as a young adult to join the military, now is your chance. Make no mistake, this is REAL military. Not a Civil Air Patrol or military auxiliary type unit. Who knows? It could be just what you need to get your own soldier fix. If so, email me for information.

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