By James Brabenec, Fort Sill TribuneApril 4, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla. -- When Sept. 11, 2001 rocked the world, Jacob Garrett was beginning his freshman year of high school in Guthrie, Okla. This momentous event provided the motivation that propelled his life into the Reserve, then the Guard and finally, active-duty service.
"That was devastating just watching that atrocity unfold," said the first lieutenant, now the officer in charge of personnel services for 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery. "It really sank in, and I wanted to do something about that situation."
But, back then, Garrett was like a lot of teens looking for a way out of the small town life they grew up in.
"I think I wanted something more out of life than just the mundane graduate high school, go straight to college, and get a job. I wanted something that had a real sense of purpose," he said.
Military service wasn't a new concept to him as his grandfather served 36 years, including a tour in Vietnam, in the Oklahoma Army National Guard (OANG); his stepfather did 20 years with Desert Storm being the hallmark of his time in uniform.
Five years later Garrett was ready to join the military, but he didn't just want to enlist. Instead, he looked for the best way to enter the fray, resolving to deploy to Iraq as soon as possible. He first visited a local active-duty Air Force recruiter, but was told the branch had no openings for new enlistees. So, the Air Force Reserve recruiter's office was his next option where he asked for a unit that would deploy soon.
Garrett accepted a job as an air transportation apprentice at Tinker Air Force Base, beginning what he now calls his "blue to green to gold" service. Working to load cargo into Air Mobility Command cargo planes, he thought this might be a good way to get to Iraq, but soon learned the unit probably wouldn't ever deploy.
That initial encounter may have defeated another person, but Garrett just sought another way.
Through friends of his who were in the Oklahoma Army National Guard, he heard their brigade was preparing to deploy to Iraq in 2007. He asked if there was a way he could go with them, and learned of the Air Force's Blue to Green Program.
Sometimes timing is everything as an American Forces Press Service article released in November 2006, detailed the program that included Air Force and Navy manpower reductions, 40,000 of which would be Air Force jobs. Best of all, the Army spokeswoman said the majority of the jobs were in combat support and combat services support.
This option launched Garrett into the Guard portion of his service as an OANG Soldier focused on his duties as a 13F Joint Fires Support specialist.
"I really enjoyed that job, though I didn't know that much about it before getting into it," he said. "My step-dad was a 13F and later retired as a sergeant first class."
Garrett attended 30 days of training at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where he received his uniforms, and was taught weapons familiarization and basic information about the Army.
Though he made attempts to learn some more of what he would be doing, Garrett said the Guard recruiter's 1980s videos were loud and rockin' at best.
As he settled into his field artillery job, Garrett quickly developed an appreciation for the mental and physical challenges it offered.
"Most of the field artillery is rather set in place, while forward observers are on the move," he said. "That really appealed to me that you can be part of a larger team, like an infantry unit, yet you're still an attached asset."
Garrett did six years enlisted and spoke fondly of the experience.
"There's a really special thing with the junior enlisted Soldiers, a strong bond they form, whether training or in combat," he said. "It's something you'll never forget, and you'll always remember the individuals who impacted your life in those early years."
He quickly satisfied his desire to get into the fight, as his unit prepared in 2007 and then deployed to Iraq in 2008.
Garrett expressed his appreciation for the life he had then. Along with his Army Guard duties, he was a full-time police officer in Guthrie, and had a wife and a growing family. He said he had a habit of talking with people about the benefits of military service, which caught the attention of his wife, Shannon. She encouraged him to take advantage of the OANG's tuition waiver program for college.
Working full time as a police officer, he said he didn't need to attend college, but she reminded him it was a free education.
And so he began working on an associate's degree, while learning and applying lessons to his life.
"I was cramming as many classes as I could and trying to fast track through school," he said.
Garrett completed the degree with 64 hours, which proved significant because it gave him enough hours to quality for the OANG Officer Candidate School. This meant another two years of schooling that he did through the University of Oklahoma online.
He said the 12- to 18-month program consisted of two two-week annual duty periods sandwiched around weekend service once a month. The first two weeks was spent in a high-stress brand of basic training, the second, was at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., for situational training exercises and tactical movements.
In 2013, he was commissioned into the Guard during a ceremony in Oklahoma City. Standing in front of his extended family, to include grandparents from both sides of the family, Garrett said as he returned a salute to his grandfather, a retired first sergeant, he felt a huge sense of accomplishment acknowledging Shannon for her role in helping make it happen.
"Thank you so much; our life has been completely changed," he said. "I couldn't ask for a better wife. She's done nothing but encourage me and push me to be the best that I can."
Though Garrett thought he would stay in the Guard and progress up the ranks as a police officer, the Call to Active Duty Program became available in 2017.
"This has been a dream of mine to go active duty since I first enlisted," he said.
Looking back on his 13 years of military experience, Garrett believes he's better able to recognize what his Soldiers are experiencing and so provide them with good feedback.
In regard to his future, Garrett plans to retire from the Army, though some more schooling awaits this student of life: first a master's in human resources, then the Captains Career Course and perhaps another master's toward becoming a chaplain. He said he will do most of it online as it's doable with his Army responsibilities, and the demands of raising four children while his wife is away at advanced individual training.
For Soldiers considering becoming officers, Garrett encouraged them to go for it.
"Officership starts now as a junior Soldier. Start acting like an officer now, live the Army values, and build that resume," he said.