Soldier for Life: One Veteran’s Perspective and Beliefs in Why Service to the Nation is Important

This is an article from the Winter 2020/21 issue of Combat Stress

By COL (RET) DJ Reyes, US Army

The other day a good friend asked me to do a favor for him. As a fellow Veteran, he was asked to support a school project for the child of a co-worker. Although clearly able to respond to the questionnaire, my friend thought it more informative if I would consider responding to the questionnaire. I agreed to help out my friend, but as I read thru the myriad of questions, I realized that the theme focused on my military experience and my service to the nation. It also compelled me to take a deeper look at my own journey – similar and different to our many Veterans of past and present – and to acknowledge certain important points along the way. I responded in the following manner below and I hope that my own thoughts may hopefully resonate with others reading this piece. Enjoy!

Background

Pre-Military

I grew up as an “Army brat. “My dad was a 25-year Army combat veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I was born on the island of Oahu, Hawaii (a US Territory at the time) at Tripler Army hospital. As a child, I moved around military posts in CA, NJ, VA, and overseas (Kaiserslautern, Germany). After high school, I graduated from the University of Notre Dame and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, US Army via the Army ROTC program in 1979.

Military Service

My primary “job” was in the field of Military Intelligence. Through the years, I received “intelligence training” in different fields, to include all – source analysis and counterintelligence. Years later as a brigade commander, I commanded a joint site signals intelligence organization that leveraged electronic systems (on the ground, in the air, and in space) to obtain “intelligence” on the enemy that our units were fighting at the time. Finally, I attended training in the Army’s special operations community and served in several airborne and special forces units.

In addition to serving on various military bases throughout the USA, I have had overseas assignments in Korea, the United Kingdom, and Germany. I also deployed on multiple combat tours that included Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Syria, North Africa, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

I received multiple unit and individual awards including 3 Bronze Stars for combat operations.

During these combat deployments, I served as my Commander’s Senior Intelligence Advisor and supported the following missions:

1) Find and capture or neutralize terrorist organizations who threatened our US and Coalition Forces.

2) Stabilize the host nation, its government, and its population.

In my earlier deployments, our communications were not very good – in many instances I could not contact home, other than writing letters (i.e., snail mail).

On some deployments, we were not quite sure when they would end. One that I will always remember was the invasion of Iraq on 19 March 2003 (my 46th birthday, by the way). We were not told we were returning home until late January 2004 – and we re-deployed back to the USA on 4 February 2004. Given the sudden notification of our pending re-deployment to the actual re-deployment just two weeks later, you can imagine how that degree of uncertainty can affect Soldiers, both mentally and emotionally.

Some thoughts about Combat that I Learned Along the Way

  1. Soldiers with a strong Faith in God, with good friends, and with a supportive family back home, tend to do better and cope more effectively under combat conditions.
  2. No matter how hard or long you train for combat, you never know what to expect – and you never know how you will react. Think about being on a sports team (e.g., baseball, football, and the like) and practicing all week long. Then you board a bus and travel to another school location for an away game, and to another field, a different crowd, and another team you have never competed with before. Your heart pumps really fast and the excitement builds. Your coach is trying to calmly talk to you as the crowd is yelling and the band is playing very loudly. No matter how hard you practiced, you can never really replicate the “real conditions” you are facing right before the referee blows the whistle to start the game.
  3. Your buddies with you are your reason to survive and make it back home to your own families. You don’t care who your buddies are, what color skin they have, where they’re from, or what their political beliefs are because all you care about is that they will protect you if you are being attacked. And they expect the same from you.
  4. There are some very long days and nights – and in the desert – very hot days and nights. There are periods of boredom. Then suddenly you can get fired upon or attacked with mortars, rockets, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). This requires you to respond very quickly. It can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. This is why we all kept calendars in our caps, helmets, or notebooks – crossing off each day that passed and one day closer to getting back on the “Freedom Bird” home.
  5. There is no greater feeling than when you are flying back home from a deployment and the pilot says “We are now entering US airspace. On behalf of a grateful nation, Welcome Home!”

Post-Military

I retired from the Army in 2013 and performed one short assignment as a Department of Defense Civilian (Intelligence) at the US Special Operations Command, MacDill AFB.

I decided to then focus my energies on public service and helping others in need. I specifically focus on three groups:

  1. Veterans in trouble with the law
  2. Special needs/disabled children of military families
  3. Victims of human trafficking/human smuggling

I identified these areas that are both personal and meaningful, and of which I believe we all must try to lend a hand in any capacity that is possible.

Final Thoughts

  1. If our Nation goes to War, it must be for all the right reasons. Our government has outlined our national priorities in a document called the National Security Strategy (NSS). The Department of Defense’s supporting document that further translates and defines the NSS is the National Defense Strategy (NDS).
  2. If our Nation decides to go to War when the benefits outweigh the risks – then we must go forth and give 110 percent. We must go to WIN, for in War, there is no substitute for Victory.
  3. We must always remember who actually fights our Nation’s Wars. These are our National Treasures. It is comprised of our dads and moms, our husbands and wives, our brothers and sisters, our friends from high school and college, and so on. It is our citizens in our local communities across this great Nation. We must never forget and must ALWAYS HONOR those who paid the costs of war… including the ultimate cost.
  4. For those families of the fallen, every day is Memorial Day. It is not just one day in a year.

5. There is an old saying: “You can take the Soldier out of the Army, but you can’t take the Army out of the Soldier.” For many, “Service to the Nation” does not end with shedding the uniform. The US military teaches all Service Members the ethos of selfless service, of a higher calling, greater than oneself. Do not be surprised to see Veterans volunteering their own time and resources to help “the least among us” in a variety of community or neighborhood projects, local schools, parishes, and youth organizations. Thank them for their continuing service! It is incumbent upon us who have worn the uniform to find ways to continue to serve

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DJ Reyes is a retired U.S. Army Colonel with over 33 years of faithful service to our great Nation. Earning his bachelors, masters, and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Notre Dame, the U.S. Naval War College, and Temple University School of Law, DJ also commanded or served in primary staff positions in special forces/operations, military intelligence, infantry, airborne, air assault, Joint/Interagency, and Multi-National organizations. His combat and contingency deployments included tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti. In addition to providing independent consulting for organizations supporting veterans, military families with special needs, and victims of human trafficking, DJ previously served as a Department of Defense contractor assisting local Florida Veterans and their spouses with employment opportunities. DJ currently sits on the following advisory boards: National Veterans Court Alliance, Washington DC; U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL 12th) U.S. Service Academy Nomination Committee; U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL 14th) Veterans Advisory Committee; Florida Department of the VA Executive Director Danny Burgess’ “Forward March” Veteran Program Legal Sub-Committee; and Legislative Chair, Florida Veterans Council, Orlando. Finally, DJ devotes significant time and energy to his community service role as senior military advisor and mentor to the 13th Judicial Circuit’s Veterans Treatment Court, or VTC. The VTC identifies those Veterans in trouble with the law resulting from some disorder or disability incurred during military service, obtains the necessary medical treatment and therapies for them, assists in the rehabilitation process, and promotes their successful reintegration back into the Veterans’ local communities. Within Tampa Bay, DJ was recognized in 2014 with the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s “Heroes at Work” Award for his continuing public service as a Veteran-owned business consultant supporting both military and special needs communities. In 2016, DJ was awarded with the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s highest award – the Liberty Bell Award – for his exemplary efforts in promoting, and advocating for, the legal judicial system and process as it supports the local Veterans and special needs communities. The Hillsborough County’s Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council also announced DJ as the 2016 recipient of the Raymond E. Fernandez Award. This award is presented each year to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the criminal justice system. In January 2020, (NHL) Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik’s Foundation announced DJ as this year’s recipient of the Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero Award. Finally, the Notre Dame Club of Greater Tampa Bay recently announced DJ’s nomination for the 2020 Father Corby Award for Distinguished Military Service.

Combat Stress Magazine

Combat Stress magazine is written with our military Service Members, Veterans, first responders, and their families in mind. We want all of our members and guests to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each of them. Stress is unavoidable and comes in many shapes and sizes. It can even be considered a part of who we are. Being in a state of peaceful happiness may seem like a lofty goal but harnessing your stress in a positive way makes it obtainable. Serving in the military or being a police officer, firefighter or paramedic brings unique challenges and some extraordinarily bad days. The American Institute of Stress is dedicated to helping you, our Heroes and their families, cope with and heal your mind and body from the stress associated with your careers and sacrifices.

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