From enlisted Soldier to officer to FEMA Reservist, Colorado Reserve Ambassador still serving
July 17, 2013
DENVER -- From enlisting into the Army National Guard and Army Reserve to receiving a direct commission to captain in the Army Reserve, then working as a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Reservist, Dr. James C. Sherman, continues to dedicate his life to serving his country as a volunteer.
"My father enlisted me," said Sherman, Colorado's Army Reserve Ambassador Emeritus. "He was with the 82nd Airborne in World War II, and I guess he saw Vietnam was coming, so when I was in my second year of community college he took me to a drill of the Arizona Army National Guard. He said we were going to visit the Guard. Since he was in the Guard, I didn't think anything about it. And you didn't tell my dad, 'No.'"
This visit resulted in his volunteering in the Arizona Army National Guard in January 1961.
"There weren't a lot of draftees in the Guard, many young persons of draft age were enlisting to avoid the draft, and several had some college education. I requested electronics training but was put in cook school; two soldiers from my basic training company, Baker and Davis got into the school I wanted. It seemed as if school selection at that time was made in alphabetical order."
Sherman moved to Tucson, Ariz., following his graduation from Arizona State College and then transferred to the Army Reserve, serving from October 1964 through February 1967. As a college graduate and a certified teacher, he was made the unit training sergeant. During that time he completed a master's degree in Asian studies and Chinese at the University of Arizona.
Following his basic training, Sherman was more organized and focused, according to his mother. Sherman said he grew up in the Army, gained more confidence, and his dad responded to him differently -- with more respect.
Sherman recalled differences from the Army then and now, especially as a new officer.
"I was not authorized a uniform allowance until completing 60 days in the Army Reserve, as an Individual Ready Reserve officer this took two years. Also, I never received any enlistment or special skills bonus and never received any funding for education."
After leaving the Army Reserve as an enlisted Soldier, Sherman attended the University of Denver from 1967 to 1972 and earned a second master's degree in student personnel services and a doctorate in higher education administration. During this time he noticed Soldiers in the building next to him drilling on select weekends, and he decided to talk with them about their duties.
"They were a military intelligence detachment," said Sherman, "I told them about my master's degree and background in Chinese and international relations. The unit commander encouraged me to apply for a direct commission in military intelligence; I received this commission following the approval of my military security clearance."
Sherman received a direct commission as a captain because of his education and prior military service.
"I didn't even know how to put together my uniform as an officer," said Sherman, noting that he was ordered to report to the Pentagon. "I looked at the uniforms of other Army officers, adjusted my few awards and new insignia, and reported to my new office."
He recalled being part of many very important missions and assignments as a military intelligence Army Reserve officer, including a letter of recognition from the British government.
"It was very rewarding being in military intelligence," said Sherman. "Our duties frequently sent my unit to Japan; it's hard to believe that a small reserve detachment in Denver was directly assisting the American and Japanese governments in their negotiations with the Soviet Union."
Following his 2001 retirement from the Army Reserve as a colonel, Sherman was recommended for selection as an Army Reserve Ambassador and began these duties in 2002. This ambassador program was established in 1998 for private citizens to promote awareness of the Army Reserve and the goals and objectives of the Chief, Army Reserve on matters relating to Army Reserve Soldiers in Colorado.
Army Reserve Ambassadors are volunteers who function at the state and local level without salary, wages or other benefits, and develop awareness and advocacy with community leaders.
Ambassadors assist by informing public, community leaders and congressional staff offices about the capabilities and value of the Army Reserve and its Soldiers. They establish open lines of communication within these communities to help establish mutually supporting relationships with community leaders and community organizations.
Ambassadors promote support for Soldiers and their Families during deployments and play an active role in facilitating community support through "welcome home" ceremonies and the Yellow Ribbon Program.
His military career prepared him for what was next, working part time with FEMA. Sherman has had nine disaster deployments with FEMA, with the ninth - Hurricane Sandy - being the largest and longest.
"Army training and experience made me resilient to the 12-hour work days of Hurricane Sandy," said Sherman. "I'm used to hardship. Many people quit because of the long work hours, working six to seven days per week and being away from their family for an extended period of time.
Many full-time FEMA staff and reservists have prior military experience and related civilian work experience."
Local residents in the area of a disaster are also hired by FEMA to relieve the reservists and to assist the disaster area by providing employment opportunities. In New York City "there were many nationalities that we served and hired, which presented numerous language and cultural situations that were of interest to me," said Sherman.
Sherman's role with FEMA during Hurricane Sandy was to assist in the training of Hazard Mitigation and FEMA staff on basic and specific skills. He established the Hazard Mitigation Training Office in Queens, N.Y., and relied upon his prior training as an educator, administrator and Army officer to assist him with his FEMA responsibilities.
As a civilian, Sherman previously worked as assistant dean in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado.
"Oh, I almost forgot, I also volunteer at the USO at the Denver International Airport and am on the Foundation Board at Northern Arizona University."