FORT MCCOY, Wis. - Sgt. 1st Class Billy J. Conley, assigned to the 13th Battalion, 100th Regiment, Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, has dedicated his life to God and Country since he was 17 years old.
After 27 years, he is ready to reclass to a full time civilian.
Conley was a Soldier mechanic from day one. Every unit with a truck needs a mechanic to take care of it.
"I've worked my way around a little bit," says Conely. He has worked in cavalry, field artillery, rear defense artillery, infantry, aviation, municipal support battalion and now a training support battalion. For the last eight plus years, he trained Soldiers, passing his knowledge to the next generation of Soldiers.
"I just like mentoring Soldiers and teaching them their job. I'm about done with the Army, so eventually they're going to have to take over," he said.
Being attached to a variety of units around the globe has given Conely many memorable experiences only the Army can provide: firing a Howitzer, flying in a Blackhawk and Kiowa helicopters and recovering military vehicles. Conley even led two administrative Soldiers - who would rarely get a chance to go outside the wire - through their first enemy attack without injury.
Conley has also had a bounty of experiences throughout the world, stationed in Germany, Norway, Republic of Korea, and a handful of other countries. Conley dined with his Italian counterparts in the afternoon and spent the evening with German allies while attached to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He experienced much of the local culture and fare.
"I used to run to Paris for lunch," says Conley.
Conley hopes some of his acquired skills from the military will serve him well in his civilian life.
"I figure if I got trained as a mechanic, it'd save me a lot more money working on my own stuff than taking it to a dealership," said Conely.
Conley said he has used mechanical knowledge to fix his truck, dirt bikes and ATVs (All-terrain Vehicles).
"I've taken a lot of leadership classes while I was in the military, so I'm going to use that when I get out," says Conley. He plans to use those skills to advance in his civilian job as an irrigation technician for Heartland Farms. Conley’s ambition is to obtain a manager position in his civilian job. "That's fine I'll start out at the bottom, that's how it works, but I don't want to stay at the bottom."
"One of the reasons why I actually joined the military is because I didn't want to stay here in Wisconsin and be a farmer," Conley says with a chuckle. Now Conley hopes to get his final service orders here so he can end his career near his homestead in Plainfield. "I'm hoping and praying that they just leave me here at Fort McCoy ... my family’s not moving from here anyways," said Conley.
He and his wife Kristal, with their two children Samantha and Alex, and his dog have established a home here. Conley is hoping to take a little staycation to catch up on housework when he gets out.
"If I don't cut the grass here when it's cool, I'll have to bail it by the time I get home," says Conley.
Retiring from the Army may take longer than a "Minnesota Goodbye". Conley had to submit his sanctuary packet to assure he'd get orders to complete his 20 required years in the next two years.
The Sanctuary Program as defined by Title 10 of the United States Code, is a federal program designed to protect military service members from being forced to leave military service when they are within two years of attaining enough service to qualify for an active duty retirement.
Any Reserve Soldier on active duty (including retired Reserve Soldiers recalled to active duty, except for training) who has attained 18 but less than 20 years of active service, may not be involuntarily released from active duty before attaining 20 years of active service unless the Secretary of the Army or his/ her designee approve the release.
“I've actually done a lot of research on sanctuary because it's a program that they don’t really put out to reserve soldiers,” said Conley. Luckily Conley’s command was willing to help him. “My unit over all, they’re actually pretty supportive . . . they didn't let me fail,” says Conely.
After 12 years in the active Army and 15 in Reserve, Conley said the hard labor of being a mechanic took a toll on his body and he needs to save some of it to keep his homestead running.
"I can't just retire. I can't do nothing," says Conley. Conley said he is an "old school Army" Soldier who is finally ready to step down. Conley said he recites the noncommissioned officer creed every day on the way to work.
"I learned it as a specialist because I wanted to be a leader," said Conley. "If they give me a mission, I'm going to accomplish it. Even if I get out, I'll do it until I fall out."