FORT GORDON, GA (Oct. 24, 2018) --Standing for hours in extreme heat, rain, and all types of weather looking at hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of ID cards each day can take a visible toll on some people. Not Nelson Darden, a Department of the Army security guard.
"Those that frequent Fort Gordon love him for his commitment and his everlasting enthusiasm that he displays every day," said Lt. Lakeisha Isham, Darden's first line supervisor, Directorate of Emergency Services.
Darden, an Army retiree, was running a tire business in 2003 when a few Soldiers working security at the gate suggested he give it a try. Darden initially turned the offer down, but eventually caved in. And he has no regrets.
Along with checking ID cards, inspecting vehicles, and supervising Servicemembers, DA security guards have authorization to withhold questionable individuals, must pass an annual physical fitness test, qualify at a weapons range, and an array of other responsibilities.
"You also have to be part-medic because you have people come in the gate sometimes where you have to make a quick determination whether or not you let them go on to the hospital or you need to have an ambulance come get them," Darden said.
Although checking ID cards can be monotonous, Darden takes it seriously knowing it is a crucial step in ensuring safety and security. And despite some monotony, there is no telling what each day will hold.
Being a DA security guard has given him a lot of memories; some somber. One of his most memorable experiences involved talking a man down who was threatening to commit suicide.
"Before he even handed me his ID card, he said, 'I'm going to kill myself,'" Darden said. "There's a lot of things that you do that your job description doesn't entail."
Another involved a woman who walked up to Darden while he was checking ID cards and began telling him about personal problems that included a possible job termination.
"I guess because they get familiar with you, they get some kind of bond or trust because they see you all the time," Darden said. "I'm not saying that I'm different from everybody else, but ... I don't see things as always black and white when people come up and they try to tell me their problems."
Regardless of one's present situation, age, rank, or background, Darden makes a point of treating each person he encounters with dignity and respect. And when he sees an opportunity to help turn someone's day around for the better, he seizes it. It is one of many characteristics that set him apart from other people.
"Mr. Darden has a very unique way of talking, getting one to think, getting one to solve their own problem ... he has gone out of his way to ensure customers are taken care of and/or given the proper direction and guidance," Isham said. "He is one who embodies standards, and [expects] those that work alongside him to exhibit those same standards or better."
Margaret-Ann Simpson, DES physical security assistant access control administrator, said the first words that come to mind when she thinks of Darden are "kind, wonderful personality, and great smile."
Simpson has known Darden for 15 years and believes he is a great asset to the Fort Gordon community.
"Mr. Darden makes your day every time you come through the gate, always making you feel it's going to be a great day," she said.
Darden jokes that he "doesn't get paid enough to be mean and nasty." Members of the community have taken notice over the years, expressing their appreciation for Darden through dozens of handwritten letters, challenge coins, and other small tokens of gratitude. He keeps them in a heavily-weighted binder that he pulls out on occasion, such as when he is having a bad day; which despite his positive attitude, does occur, he said. When it does happen, Darden is careful not to take it out on anyone.
"I love my job, and just like with anything else, with the good comes the bad, and it's not always with the people who come in the gate," Darden said. "It's just how things are sometimes ... so just take it with a grain of salt, be thankful for what you got, and keep rollin'."