By Pfc. Jesus J. Aranda, Task Force Lightning Public AffairsJuly 17, 2009
For many Soldiers, life before the Army stems from a small, quiet hometown and for others, life before the Army began in a bustling cityscape or rural town.
For Pfc. John Patton, a native of the island of Kwajalein Atoll, within the Marshall Islands, life before the Army began in an entirely different country.
The child of a natural-born American citizen, Patton spent the first 11 years of his life in the Marshall Islands before his father's job moved his family to the U.S.
"After moving to the U.S., I lived there for 10 years before moving back to the Marshall Islands," Patton said.
Accepting a job with a government-run fishery, Patton moved back to the Marshall Islands, a move which he wanted to do for some time before.
"I went to Japan for fishery training, quality control training and solar panel refrigeration technical training," said Patton.
"We used solar power to generate power on the islands, because there wasn't as much electricity there," Patton said. "I worked as a technician with the systems, keeping them maintained."
In addition to maintaining, the solar panels involved in the refrigeration of the fish, Patton served as a quality control supervisor.
"I would inspect the reef fish," Patton said. "All it takes is one bad fish to ruin the whole cooler."
Overall, the four years spent working for the hatchery were fulfilling to Patton; however, with a growing family to consider, Patton chose to move on.
"I enjoyed it, but I had to quit because my wife and I were having our first kid and the payment wasn't enough," said Patton. "My next job paid three times as much."
Patton found work with a large American defense contractor internationally based on the islands.
"My contract was renewed yearly, before the position I was working in was phased out," Patton said. "I may have stood on if I could have."
Working through his six-year contract, Patton then moved on to a teaching position at a private school. There, he furthered his education, taking on the challenge of mastering the English language.
"I liked teaching," Patton said, smiling. "I taught English at the 11th grade level, mainly grammar, spelling, and everything else."
Content with the job in which he found himself, Patton never could have imagined a 'Once in a lifetime opportunity' would present itself, during spring of 2005, through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
"Some recruiters came to the islands to offer ASVAB testing for our students," explained Patton. "I took the test alongside my students for fun and I did very well."
Weeks later, after the results had been processed, the visiting U.S. Army recruiters located Patton, then in attendance of a training course for teachers, to speak with him about a possible future in the U.S. military.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime decision," Patton said. "I was one month away from my 36th birthday; 35 was, at the time, the age limit on enlisting."
With his decision time limited, Patton made the decision, on the spot, to enlist as a signal support systems specialist and found himself on his way back to the U.S. for initial Army training.
"I had to think of a way to explain everything to my wife as I was driving home," Patton admitted. "Basically, I had 13 days, from the day I decided to join, to when I arrived at Fort Benning for basic training."
Despite concerns of being unable to adequately keep pace with the physical requirements, Patton proved to himself that he was more than capable of being a U.S. Army Soldier.
"I had thought about joining the Army sometimes, but I thought I was too old," said Patton. "I thought it would be more physical, but I didn't have too much trouble."
The physical challenges were soon presented to Patton upon arriving to the 25th Infantry Division for his first assignment. Patton now serves Company A, 25th Special Troop Battalion, 25th Inf. Div. while attached to Headquarters Support Company, 25th STB, 25th Inf. Div. as a mailroom attendant.
Working in the mailroom while at Schofield Barracks, Patton did not expect the workload to increase as dramatically as it had upon deploying to Contingency Operating Base Speicher, late Novemeber 2008.
"The Christmas mail surge was nuts!," said Patton.
During the holiday season, personnel serving on COB Speicher received a heightened amount of mail, packaged gifts, and care packages. Patton, and the mail crew for which he serves daily, processed an enormous amount of mail for HHC and several additional supporting units.
"We'd process eight to fifteen pallets of mail each day," said Patton, regarding the Christmas mail surge. "A pallet can hold up to 1,000 boxes and more than 50 percent of the mail were care packages."
Ultimately, Patton did not mind the strenuous workload, as his efforts helped to lift the spirits of personnel serving on COB Speicher.
"It was all for the troops," Patton said. "It was all for the morale of everybody, so it was good."
With his deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, Patton finds the most difficult aspect of his service in Iraq is being apart from his loved ones.
"I've never been away from them before," said Patton. "Being away from my wife, my three boys and girl is the most challenging part of this."
Patton realizes his principle reason for enlisting with the U.S. Army lies with the support of his family and the future of his children.
"The main reason I joined was for my family," said Patton. "I wanted to get them off of the island so they could get a better education."
Supporting the ones he loves, and the Soldiers who serve beside him, Patton continues to experience a variety of careers paths and gain know-how through professional training. For Soldiers like Patton, life before the Army can be as bountiful as a future with the Army.