Soldier and Scholar
Sgt. Olin Wilkinson, of Greenville, N.C., waits inside an Iraqi house with fellow Soldiers after clearing the house during a night mission, Dec. 22.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Sgt. Olin Wilkinson, of Greenville, N.C., is probably not the kind of person one might think of as a typical high school English teacher.

An infantryman currently serving his fourth deployment, Wilkinson's service includes several years as a Marine and nearly seven years in the North Carolina's National Guard.

Wilkinson earned a Master of Arts degree in teaching from East Carolina University, and barely completed his first semester on faculty at Roanoke High School when called to deploy to Iraq with the 252nd Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

"I had been out for a while and kinda missed it," Wilkinson said of joining the National Guard after his term in the Marine Corps. "And I live in North Carolina so [I thought] let me do something that's going to serve the state, the local community."

Wilkinson was a student at East Carolina University when he enlisted in the National Guard, and the benefits of the Guard enabled him to earn a bachelor's degree in English and History and then pursue graduate school.

"I was still an undergraduate when I joined the National Guard, Wilkinson said. "Getting a master's degree, for me, was more of a goal; it was something I just wanted to do." Wilkinson said the National Guard helped him obtain that goal.

"If it wasn't for the National Guard, I probably would not have gotten my master's degree, or it would have been a long process, little by little. The financial benefits that they gave me allowed me to do it one fell swoop. "

Wilkinson said serving his community as a servicemember and a teacher have both been rewarding, and his experiences in the military help him in teaching in countless ways.

"Especially in the infantry, you never go do anything without a plan, without a rehearsal. The hardest part is getting ready. [It's] the same with teaching... if you go in there and try to wing it, they're going to eat you alive," Wilkinson said. "And also, having been a [noncommissioned officer], and standing up in front of people, talking to people; you feel comfortable doing that. It's really intimidating when you walk into a classroom. Also, you have to learn to work with people."

With his education, Wilkinson could commission as an officer. He prefers the hands on environment being an NCO offers saying that it is the same thing he likes about teaching.

"I like being a squad leader, I like being a team leader, I like being an NCO," Wilkinson said. "It's good duty. You get a lot more hands on... and I think that's why I like teaching, it is really hands on. ..you get to know their emotions; what they're thinking, what they're feeling."

Wilkinson, who seems compelled to serve his country and community, said the rewards of being in the military are immeasurable, and he wishes others could share in the experience.

"Less than one percent of the U.S. population is in the military, and I think that's a terrible thing, because this is worth doing," Wilkinson said.

As a Soldier, Wilkinson says that he does not worry about politics just the mission.

"We don't get to choose what wars we fight or what duties we pull. I've guarded refugees in Albania, stopped genocide in Kosovo, I'm here in Iraq now. I didn't get to choose any of that. But I know there are people whose lives are better, because I was on a street with a gun and I didn't back down."

"Whatever else happens the rest of my life, I know I changed the world, and 99 percent of our population is never going to experience that."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16