Black History Month: Mississippi native looks back on 32-year Army career
February 2, 2011
HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first female prime minister; Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq; "Saturday Night Fever" was the Album of the Year; and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gene Moore entered the Army.
In the early 1970s, Chief Warrant Officer Moore watched his uncle return from Vietnam to their hometown of Panther Burn, Miss., a town of about 250 people in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. He saw the way his uncle was treated, the way he acted and knew what he wanted to do with his life.
"I was impressed by him," he said. "I knew as a teenager that I wanted to follow him into the Army."
According to Chief Warrant Officer Moore, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison, Hunter Army Airfield, the Army was the only place where a "kid from Mississippi" could go to get the chance to see the world.
In his Army career, Chief Warrant Officer Moore has been stationed across the United States, in Germany twice and in Korea; he has traveled to places like Brazil, Paraguay, Iraq and Afghanistan. The boy from the Mississippi Delta has grown into a man of the world.
His military story began in 1978, when he signed up for the Army on the delayed entry program, but it really started in June of 1979, when he entered as a truck driver with the transportation corps. But after seeing fellow Soldiers sky diving, Chief Warrant Officer Moore knew his path would lead him from a child who was afraid of heights to a man who jumps out of an airplane 25,000 feet above Earth.
"I got the opportunity to see Soldiers jump out of an airplane and I just knew I wanted to do that," said Chief Warrant Officer Moore, 49. "I reenlisted and became a parachute rigger - even though I had no idea what a parachute rigger did. I just fell in love with it."
After meeting a mentor at Fort Bragg, N.C., Chief Warrant Officer Moore decided to enter the warrant officer program - fifteen years into his Army career.
"For a parachute rigger [to be eligible for warrant officer school], you have to have nine years of parachute duty in different sections - parachute pack, parachute maintenance and air drop," he said. "For me, I was an E7 promotable when I attended the school, (I had served) about 15 years in the service when I went, so I'm kind of one of the old guys who went late and decided to stay."
After 24 years as a rigger, Chief Warrant Officer Moore has jumped more than 2,700 times, a majority of those coming with a command expedition parachute team, with whom he jumped with into stadiums and concerts around the United States.
"It's a thrill, it's adrenaline, it's fun," Chief Warrant Officer Moore said, explaining the feeling of jumping out of a plane. "Each time, I get the same feeling - the excitement of jumping and exiting the aircraft. It's kind of like a freedom for a short time."
Shortly before entering warrant officer school, Chief Warrant Officer Moore met a young Soldier from Puerto Rico named Loarina Cepero at Fort Devens, Mass. Four years later they were married and they have three sons - Justin, 10, Dominic, 6, and Marcus, 3. Lori now serves the Army as a civil servant with the 3rd Infantry Division's G6, at Fort Stewart.
After working his way up the ranks, the senior airdrop system technician has decided to retire this year, after 32 years of service to the Army and his Soldiers.
"He's a great leader who takes care of his Soldiers," said Spc. Robert Burns, a fellow rigger with HHC, USAG. "Everything with packing he taught me. Before I got here, I knew nothing about packing, and he's squared away. He's very professional and knowledgeable."
Chief Warrant Officer Moore takes his role as a mentor seriously, and says that dealing with young Soldiers on a daily basis is what he will miss the most.
"I stayed on because I enjoy being around the young Soldiers, mentoring and teaching and coaching them," he said. "They also mentor and teach and coach me ... I feed on their energy."
During his military career, Chief Warrant Officer Moore has seen many changes in the makeup of the Army. He said when he entered in 1979, the African American population in the military ranks was much lower, and very few stayed in to progress far up the structural ladder.
"I've seen a lot of changes since 1979," Chief Warrant Officer Moore said. "Black American Soldiers have opportunities and doors are open to us. When I first entered, the doors were open, but it seemed like you couldn't get to the door. But now things have changed.
"It seemed like there was a ceiling on leadership - from sergeants major to general officers, it seemed like there were very few [African Americans in those positions] during that time. Now in (military) leadership, it feels like the ceiling has lifted and Black Americans are reaching the top."
Chief Warrant Officer Moore knows that it is those who came before him who paved the way for African American Soldiers like himself to reach the upper ranks of the military.
"When we look at those sergeants major and general officers in position today, it's not because of them - it's because of the people who came before them, the Soldiers who paved the way, and the warrant officers who came before us and paved the way so that we could achieve a certain level in the military," he said.
Come July, when Chief Warrant Officer Moore officially retires from the Army, he and his Family will remain in Richmond Hill, where they have made a comfortable life for themselves. There, he will be able to spend more time with Lori and their boys doing the things they love to do together - play basketball, ride ATVs, watch movies, go to the park and play video games.
"We've been saying, and we joke around about this, that he's been retiring for 12 years," Lori said. "We've been pushing it back. But the area that we've moved into, the schools and the sense of community that is here is really right."
Not that saying good bye will be easy for a man who has served longer than many of his Soldiers have been alive.
"The years went fast ... I was just enjoying, loving what I do, and the things that I'm doing and the time, I look back, and it just came by fast," he said. "I just had fun and loved the things I was doing; I enjoyed the jumping and talking to the people and the counseling of young Soldiers, and being a part of something, just being a part of a Family. It makes it hard to give up."