By Sgt. Sidnie SmithJune 18, 2019
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The young man moves slowly through the practiced movements in front of the beige casket, a somber look on his face. He slowly folds the American flag, making sure to keep the flag taut as the other Soldier holds the opposite end. As he slowly moves closer, while folding the flag into crisp triangles, he maintains his bearing. He finishes his task and slowly brings the flag to his chest. The detail seems as natural to the Soldier as breathing.
While new to the Army, Private 1st Class Kevin Vereen, Jr. standing at more than 6 feet tall, has an aura that immediately commands respect and is a reflection of the respect he gives his peers and superiors.
Vereen is one of many Soldiers assigned to Signal, Intelligence and Sustainment Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, but he is not just any Soldier. He is a son of a Soldier, and a father, who is continuing on a family legacy.
Brought up with a firm yet gentle hand in a family rich in military service, Vereen is applying the lessons and values gleaned from his father to his own service and his role as father.
While all Soldiers have different reasons for joining the Army, Vereen's tale is more unique than many. Most Soldiers are not former NFL recruits. And most Soldiers do not have to salute their own fathers.
Vereen's experience with the military began from the day he was born. His childhood was like many of those who have parents in the military - bouncing around different duty stations and different countries, making friends who leave after a short while, and a unique immersion with not only other cultures but with the Army's culture. During this constantly changing childhood Vereen found camaraderie with others, and his father, through sports.
"When I was a little kid, my father was a football coach for a 5th and 6th grade team at Fort Leavenworth," Vereen said. "I would walk around the house in the pads and beg to go with him to his football practice. Finally, he let me go with him. He was amazed at how well I did with the bigger kids."
While Vereen played other sports like basketball, he knew his love was football.
During his high school years, Vereen continued to play football. By his junior year, college scouts were looking at recruiting him, he said. He had his choice of colleges from Kansas State University to the University of Arkansas and many others. He ultimately decided to attend the University of Northern Iowa, where former teammates from high school were also attending, and he said he felt an immediate sense of community.
Around his junior year of college, Vereen said, NFL scouts began to look at him. Upon graduating with a degree in exercise science and kinesiology, Vereen was recruited by Seattle Seahawks. And while achieving a childhood dream to play professional football, one of the most important things in Vereen's life happened.
His son, Kannon, was born.
"I cried so hard," he said. "This feeling, I can't explain. I just thanked God for bringing him into the world safe and sound. When he opens his eyes and holding him, it's amazing. It's not about me anymore. The love that I have gained for this little individual, it's amazing. I wouldn't take it back for the world."
During a time when it appeared that everything was going perfectly for him, Vereen's NFL career was coming to a halt, like a wide receiver slamming into a linebacker.
He was dropped from the Seattle Seahawks and missed the 2015 draft due to a shoulder injury. Refusing to let go of his dream, he continued to train for long hours, day and night. His determination paid off when he was picked up by the Green Bay Packers.
But once again, determination and grit were not enough. His injured shoulder proved to still be a problem, and Vereen was eventually dropped from the Packers, too.
Vereen's father said he wanted his son to follow his dream and was affected at seeing that his son's dream had come to an end.
"I told him, 'It may not seem like the full dream came true,'" said Brig. Gen. Kevin Vereen, deputy commanding general of operations at U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky. "'But look at the opportunities that life and college football gave you."
Vereen accepted the reality of his situation.
He started working for a pharmaceutical company, but knew that was not what he wanted for the rest of his life. He was a man, a father now, and he needed to be able to provide a life for his own son.
So, Vereen choose to follow his father's path. He joined the Army.
"Dad set the bar high for me," he said.
Vereen chose to enlist, so he could work his way up. He does not hide who his father is, but he also doesn't ride on his dad's coattails either. He said he wants to carve out his own path in the Army.
As a kid, Vereen didn't fully understand the gravity of who his father was and what his ascent up the Army ranks even meant.
"I was a military kid, but I was so into sports," he said. "I knew my dad was doing well, but I didn't grasp the Army as a whole. I really didn't understand it. I wanted to get a feel for the Army."
Brig. Gen. Vereen was a little surprised at first when he learned his son was enlisting, he said. After focusing on sports for so long, he said he felt honored his son was joining the Army.
"When kids see the path their parents went down, it's a little exciting," Brig. Gen. Vereen said. "You can do a lot of self-reflection knowing that you did something right, that he sees something of value in the career path I chose."
Yet like any parent, he had reservations. Being a Soldier, Brig. Gen. Vereen was aware of the challenges of military service.
Despite the reservations, the worries and the empathy of life as a Soldier, Brig. Gen. Vereen is adamant about one thing.
"I am proud of him," he said.
With rank comes privileges, and as such Brig. Gen. Vereen had the unique privilege of administering the oath of enlistment to his son.
Vereen, still in his first year of his Army service, has had a chance to learn and grow already. He is planning the next stages of his military career and considering going to Officer Candidate School. He said he would like to go into the medical field, but is keeping his options open.
What he is doing now in the Army will only benefit his own son's future, Vereen said.
Reflecting on his service, Vereen said he realizes what his own father has done in the Army.
"You don't really understand everything that goes into his line of work or his duty," he said. "It's just like 'Wow!' But where my dad is now, I have nothing but the utmost love, the utmost respect for him, and just thank him for everything he's done. I have more of an appreciation for what my dad has sacrificed to get to where he is now."
Brig. Gen. Vereen said he knows being a father in the military is hard, but gave important advice to his son.
"Despite being a Soldier, you still have to be a father," Brig. Gen. Vereen said. "Let (your children) know you love them unconditionally, despite being away from them. It makes a difference in a young man's life knowing his father loves him."