Staff Sgt. back in Army after 19-year break
July 19, 2010
- Staff Sgt. Peter Winston first joined the Army in 1981 and was medically discharged in 1989.
- After a 19-year break, Winston was medically cleared to return to active duty last year.
COB BASRA, Iraq - When Staff Sgt. Peter Winston first joined the army, he wore olive drab utility uniforms, drove a jeep, and carried the M16A1 rifle. His "global positioning system" was a map and compass.
A Palm Beach, Fla. native, Winston joined the Army in 1981 at the age of 17 and received training in Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare.
After serving nearly nine years, he was separated in 1989 for medical reasons. Following a 19-year break in service, Winston was watching a speech by President Barack Obama on television, and his comments on the war in Afghanistan inspired him to rejoin the Army in January 2009.
Now, Winston has a unique perspective few Soldiers ever experience. He has seen the many changes the Army has made as if they had happened all at once, rather than as a gradual transition.
One thing that has not changed, however, is Winston's passion for the Army.
"I always wanted to be a Soldier," he said. "I felt I needed to do what was my responsibility, which was to serve my country. My dad's best friend was a paratrooper, and I wanted to be a paratrooper."
"I did everything I could to put myself in that position," he said.
During his first period of enlistment, Winston served with the 82nd Airborne and was later assigned to 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, in Alaska.
"Back then the Army was run mostly by Vietnam Veterans. We had so much respect for [them]," he said. "When you walked in and saw a guy with that patch from some unit from Vietnam or he was in his dress greens and had that yellow and green ribbon on their chest, you had an idea what they had been through."
Master Sgt. Anthony Schofield, Senior Garrison Career Counselor, Fort Riley, served with Winston in Alaska.
"His work ethic and his character are by far the best that I have had the opportunity to serve with," Schofield said. "I would be proud to have him work for and with me anywhere and anytime."
Winston eventually completed Jumpmaster school. He later volunteered for Special Forces and was injured during the assessment course. In 1989, Winston was medically separated from the Army as a staff sergeant.
"I got out and, six to eight months later, Desert Storm happened," he said. "All of a sudden, everyone but me can go, and I really missed the boat on that one."
Over the next 19 years, Winston worked for General Motors as a mechanic, owned a water damage business and a sign business, and worked for Arbitron, a top marketing research company.
"During my time out, I really felt like I had a lot of unfinished business. [There were] things I had trained to do that I never got to do," Winston said.
So, when the war in Afghanistan was heating up, Winston felt it was time to go back.
"I thought, if there was an opportunity for me to go in and use all of these things that I had trained my whole life to do, and never got to do, that this was probably going to be my last opportunity," he said.
Winston also believed he had much to offer the Army.
"I wanted to do for my Soldiers what the Vietnam vets, my leaders, my mentors, did for me," he said. "I owe a lot of what I am today to the time and efforts of the Vietnam veterans who taught me the ropes."
It wasn't easy, though. Winston had to overcome two permanent profiles. After four and a half months of seeing doctors and making his case, he was finally told he could enlist.
He returned to the Army as a cavalry scout, and was assigned within the 1st Infantry Division. Winston is still learning to deal with the changes over the last 20 years.
"When I was in the first time, you had two different kinds of Soldiers. You had lifers, and you had those who joined to get college," he said.
"Now there are a myriad of reasons for people coming in. I guess in this case unemployment and the current economic situation have played a big role in people's motivation to become Soldiers."
Encountering the new generation of Soldiers has been a bit of a culture-shock for Winston, but he credits the success of our nation and advancement of technology with making life better for today's youth.
"Parents always say I want to do for my kids more than my parents did for me," he said. "I think we were successful in doing so."
But Winston is not sure all the changes have been positive. "I think the Army now has to gear itself toward taking these somewhat-coddled youngsters and we have to gradually bring them up," he said.
Winston quickly reevaluated his leadership style to accommodate the changes.
"You find as a noncommissioned officer you are even more challenged to find a way to communicate your message in a [politically correct] fashion," he said. "The sensitivity requires you to really have to reposition your message in a less aggressive, less abrasive way. I find I have to take a different approach."
On a positive note, Winston is very impressed with the technological advancements the military has made in the last 20 years.
"The technology amazes me. I am blown away by the technology."
During his previous service, Winston had to carry a book containing communications information. If captured by the enemy, the book had to be destroyed. Now the equipment is electronic and all information can be cleared with the touch of a button.
"Instead of eating a book, I'm pushing a button," he said. "I always dreaded the day if we got overrun, it's like, all right, who's eating this book'"
Since deploying with Security Company, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, Winston was assigned to protect entry control points on the COB, and recently volunteered and was selected to be part of the Personal Security Detail for the 1st Inf. Div. Command Group.
"I'm really proud to be in the 1st ID. There's a lot of esprit de corps here; there's a lot of history. I'm really proud to be on the PSD. I'm really proud of the NCOs I work with in this unit," he added. "They are very professional."
In the future, Winston plans to apply to become an Army career counselor.
"That's what I really want to do more than anything else right now, and it's how I think I can best serve the Army. I have a unique perspective."
When asked about his future plans, Winston's love of the Army shines through. "I'm going to stay until they chain me up to a humvee and drag me off the base."