Most people probably picture a person in their late teens or early 20s when one hears of a Soldier completing Basic Combat Training.

A 55-year-old has shattered that image on Fort Leonard Wood.

Sgt. 1st Class John Taffe, a former Sailor, walked across the Baker Theater stage, officially beginning his Army career, May 29.

"I'm ready to get started being a Soldier," Taffe said. "I feel like I'm a jack-of-all-trades now. I'm ready to put that to work for the Army."

His Family made the trip from Alameda, Calif., to support him in the start of a new chapter in his life.

Even though it was their 16th wedding anniversary, his wife Courtney Shepler, said she was proud to spend it watching her husband graduate from BCT.

"Life with John has always been an adventure. When I married him, I was cautiously prepared for whatever that was," Shepler said.

When he left for training, she said she was confident that her husband would be able to complete basic training, but she had one warning for him.

"I had to keep reminding him that he wasn't there to compete with the 18-year-olds -- that he wasn't as rubbery as they are. But, he didn't listen to me at all," Shepler said.

Taffe graduated with a physical fitness test score better than most of his much younger comrades. He exceeded the maximum 300 with a total of 331 -- the second highest in the company.

All of that conditioning forced Taffe's body to shed 23 pounds during the 10 weeks of basic training.

"I enjoyed PT, even though I had lost a significant amount of weight in muscle," Taffe said.

According to Taffe, the hardest thing for him to conquer during training was Basic Rifle Marksmanship.

"I hadn't picked up a gun in 23 years. I had no need to," Taffe said. "Had I known that BRM was such a large part of this, I would have done less CrossFit and spent more time at the range," he said.

Even though Taffe was old enough to be their dad, he said the other Soldiers training in Company D, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, were more like his brothers and sisters.

"I'm looking at retirement magazines, and they are still trying to figure out who they are, but I would be happy to serve with them. The Army Values that have been instilled in us make me proud," Taffe said.

Taffe said he is looking forward to leaving Fort Leonard Wood and getting back to life, as he knew it.

"I missed my children. In just two and a half months, they have grown up so much," Taffe said. "It will also be nice to gain back control of my life; every second of my day has been controlled by a drill sergeant.

His wife agreed.

"I know this pales in comparison to what deployed Families experience, but this is the longest we have been apart," Shepler said. "I am looking forward to having my partner home again."

Taffe's military career started in 1977 with the U.S. Navy. Most of his time was spent as an explosive ordinance disposal technician, diver, parachutist and instructor. He served for almost 14 years before being released from active duty in 1991 with the rank of chief petty officer or E-7 equivalent.

"I am so proud of what he has accomplished. People think once they get to a certain age there are things they can't do anymore, but they can and he's living proof of that. It's a message that things are still possible," Shepler said.

When he returns to California, Taffe plans to join his Reserve unit and return to his job as a security specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard.

He plans to go to Advanced Individual Training in Fort Lee, Va., next year.

(Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series.)

Page last updated Thu June 5th, 2014 at 00:00