Unsung heroes -- former Soldiers give installation 'sound' effort
December 10, 2009
Retired Sgts. 1st Class Jon Nelson and James Blackmon still feel like they're waking up for physical training at 5 a.m. many days.
Their PT, however, no longer consists of running and push-ups. Instead, it involves lugging speakers, wires, televisions and audio equipment to events around post during all hours of the day.
Both Nelson, a graphics specialist, and Blackmon, a project engineer, contractors with DS Information Systems Corporation, set up and break down sound and audio systems for installation events, including graduations at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, dinners at The Landing and outdoor changes of command. The men said they average at least 35 events monthly with more during the holiday season.
Blackmon said he and Nelson fulfill their daily workouts by routinely carrying TVs weighing 50 to 60 pounds and lacing hundreds of feet of cables throughout venues. He said the most tedious, time-consuming task during his 12 years here was an anniversary event several years ago requiring about four miles of cable. The physical demands of the job do not tire the men, however, and the smiles on their faces give away the fact they love what they do.
"It's enjoyable to give back to the community here," said Blackmon, a Daleville native. He said he is fond of interacting with Soldiers, some returning for training or leadership positions five or 10 years after he first meets them.
"It's very interesting to see how they've progressed in their careers," Blackmon said. "They remember you, too, and that's the really nice thing about it. Undoubtedly you must have done something good to make them remember you."
While no stranger to the military, Nelson originally hails from a very different place - Gardiner, Maine. Alabama is where he and his wife chose to retire 16 years ago because she found employment here. Though this is home now, he still visits Maine whenever he has the opportunity and speaks fondly of his Yankee stomping grounds.
Because of their prior Army service, Nelson said he feels he and his partner are particularly skilled working in the installation environment. "I feel that James and I have been doing this so long we could do it in our sleep. We know what commanders want," Nelson said.
He added he loves his job because it enables him to connect with Soldiers and help the post community.
"I enjoy working with the military. The functions we do, like Soldiers coming home at night, make my hair still stand on the back of my neck when I'm there," Nelson said. "I did a couple tours in Vietnam back when I was younger, and the only thing that ever bothered me about being in the military was leaving and coming home. I always get choked up when troops do that. I like to see them come home, and I get upset when they have to leave. I guess all military guys feel that way."
While they come from opposite worlds, Blackmon and Nelson said they get along fabulously on the job and enjoy each other's company, even after many years together.
"We got along to start with I guess because of the military," Blackmon said. "You get to travel so much, and you meet so many different kinds of people."
Rollie Edwards, chief of Plans, Operations and Mobilization Division with Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security (DPTMS) is one of many the team frequently assists. He said Fort Rucker's mission could not be completed without the two men.
He said Nelson and Blackmon always accommodate special layout requests for sound and audio equipment.
"They're very supportive of our ideas and help us make it work," Edwards said. "The audio and visual stuff is key to all our conferences, major meetings and events and it's got to work right the first time every time."
Nelson said no one else is specifically trained to do their jobs, so they must juggle leave, vacations and sick days around each other. While Blackmon assumes the managerial duties for the team, they are both equally prepared to perform tasks.
"We're never both gone. That's why it's so important we work together the way we do. We just cover each other all the time," Nelson said.
DPTMS Operations Branch Chief Joe Harris also appreciates Nelson and Blackmon's talents.
"We could not do a ceremony without them. Their services are an integral part of Fort Rucker events, Harris said.
He noted event attendees would not have audio or visual entertainment and resources at any event here without Blackmon and Nelson.
"They're the first ones in and the last ones out. I have nothing but praise for them," Harris said.