CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - A parent's instinct is to love, protect and shield their child from harm. Well, imagine being an active duty Soldier. You not only protect and shield your child, but serves as a protector of freedom when duty calls. This can serve as a great example for children to follow their parent's footsteps to military service and this is the case for Capt. Freddy Smith and Staff Sgt. Damon Witherspoon.
"My father has all the influence in the world over me. Everything that I do, I try to mirror my father," said Witherspoon, a senior logistician for Task Force Odin, 306th Military Intelligence Battalion, 470th Military Intelligence Brigade. "Joining the Army was something that I felt obligated to do since my father is serving."
These Malvern, Ark., natives are both deployed to the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility with units based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Eight years ago when Smith, already serving in the military, returned back to Malvern on leave from Operation Iraqi Freedom to see Witherspoon graduate high school with no real plan on what to do next in his life, he was concerned.
"He came home, picked me up, and said he wanted to talk to me about something. We drove and ended up at the recruiting station. We talked to the recruiter about my options. I took the ASVAB [entry level testing for military service], and [he] just asked me if this is something that I would want to do," Witherspoon said. "Hands down yes, it's not a question."
"You're serving and I want to follow in your footsteps," he added.
To Smith, he just wanted to give his first born child a better view on what the world has to offer outside of their small hometown.
"I wouldn't say that I coerced my son into joining the military. I just want him to explore his options," said Smith, a medical logistics planner assigned to 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 1st Sustainment Command (Theater) in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. "There aren't a lot of opportunities for high school graduates besides laborer's work."
"As a father, you don't want to see your son struggle and go through things the hard way," he added.
Shortly after his return to the battlefield, he called home to find out how things were going. To his surprise, his son was already going through basic training with a chosen specialty as a tanker. At that moment, he was faced with two sides of the same coin.
"As a professional, I knew where he would be going next, due to the fact it was at the height of the war in Iraq. As a father, I was scared of what could happen while he's there," said Smith. "He knows that whatever happens I'm a father first, but I know that some things come along with the profession."
"As a father, I'm thrilled, proud, scared and nervous all at the same time," he said.
Shortly after arriving at his first duty station, Fort Hood, Texas, Witherspoon deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment - only missing his father redeploying by two weeks.
This happened for one more deployment where the duo was deployed to Afghanistan. Distance can be a strain to any relationship; however, for this military father-son team distance doesn't play a factor. After nearly nine years, neither father nor son has missed the opportunity to stay in touch or even influence each other.
"We talk to each other every week. I know he worries about me, and I worry about him just as much," Witherspoon said.
"We talk Army, we talk shop; we talk father to son," Smith said. "I guess it's a mix of shop talk, but you put your fatherly perspective on it as well. He asks me for advice, but he influences me more that I think I influence him."
"I'm not going to let him know that," he added. "But, it's true."
This is the first time that this father-son team has been stationed at the same location since Witherspoon joined the Army in 2006. This fact can be seen as bittersweet. After 19 years of service, Smith has decided to retire, but his influence and guidance will never waiver when it comes to his son. Witherspoon, now a unit supply noncommissioned officer, plans to continue his service and follow his father's footsteps to become a commissioned officer.
"My father told me to get my school together and make sure that I can take care of my family," Witherspoon said.
When asked if he could tell his father anything, Witherspoon said, "I love him, and I appreciate everything that he continues to do for me and everything that he's done for me in the past. All the help, the mentorship, and love that he's given me and I'm trying to pay it back, one day at a time."