By Sgt. 1st Class Mary S. Katzenberger
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Capt. Joshua D. Dandridge decided at age 11 that he wanted to serve “something bigger than himself.”
“I just always felt called to the field of service,” the logistics officer said. “I wanted to be a member of a team … and that’s just where I found it, with the Army.”
Dandridge is currently assigned to the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, and has been deployed here since August supporting the 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s Operational Command Post. 1st TSC is responsible for sustainment operations throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Dandridge took a few moments away from his work serving as the liaison for the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command—the unit slated to replace 3rd ESC here in the spring—to talk about why he serves.
From ‘humble beginnings’
Dandridge’s story begins in the small, industrial mill town of Lancaster, South Carolina—a community where working in the mill was the path most young adults pursued once they finished high school.
“My town got hit pretty hard by the opioid epidemic,” he said. “College was definitely an afterthought for a vast majority of us there.”
Dandridge said his family is intimately connected to military service and war. His grandfather, Billy Rae Stacks, is a retired Army field artilleryman who served two tours in the Vietnam War, and his grandmother, Joanne Stacks, is a refugee of the Korean War who survived North Korean hostility. Additionally, his father, Buck Enfinger, deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom after 9/11, and ultimately retired from the South Carolina National Guard.
“That also inspired me to serve and stand up for what is right against those who would seek to oppress others,” he said.
After high school, Dandridge wanted to attend college, but a hoped-for football scholarship did not materialize. He attended junior college for two years instead before deciding to enlist in the National Guard to help pay for future collegiate studies.
“I joined on October 19, 2010, and I went to basic that summer at Fort Benning, Georgia, as an [infantryman],” Dandridge said. “I learned a lot and met some amazing people, and I experienced the real team-like camaraderie I had experienced growing up playing sports my whole life.”
After his enlistment, he was accepted to and enrolled in the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. Dandridge said his infantry training helped him be successful in the Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
“Being the first one in my family to go to school, you know I got my acceptance letter and my mom cried, it was one of the happiest days of her life, and after that, I’m a mama’s boy at heart, how could I say no to that school,” Dandridge said, smiling.
“I met some of my best friends there, met a lot of great other now officers, friends that are stationed all over the world,” he continued. “That was a great experience. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in my shoes. It’s a great way to shake up the progression of your family, especially if you come from really humble beginnings.”
When it came time to graduate, Dandridge said he chose to commission in the active-duty component of the Army in the logistics branch.
“The Guard gave me a lot, I’ll be forever grateful for that organization,” he said. “I wanted a little more than just one weekend a month and two weekends a year. I just wanted to get out and see the world.”
Dandridge said the 11 years he has spent in the military have broadened him and have taken him to places he never thought he’d see, like Australia and the Middle East. He has been stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Fort Lee, Virginia, and at his current duty station, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The military also provided him the opportunity to build a family.
Dandridge met his wife, Ashley, while he was stationed in Hawaii. They have a 20-month-old son, Jackson, and are currently expecting a second child. “I’m so fortunate that she’s been so supportive of me and my career, and taking care of our son,” he said.
“The Army just opened up so many doors that I would have never been able to [go through] had I not been in the military,” the logistics officers said. “It’s been one door after another, and I keep walking through them.
“I always tell young officers, there’s no corporation in America that will trust you with what the Army trusts you with,” Dandridge continued. “It’s just something that is one challenge after another.”
Learning to walk again
Dandridge’s career has not always been “sunshine and rainbows,” he said.
While he was stationed in Hawaii, he tore the ligaments in his hip and underwent surgery. Following the procedure, he had to learn how to walk again and lose a significant amount of weight.
“They asked me if I wanted to medically [retire], and I was like there are still a lot of things I want to accomplish in the uniform—it wasn’t going to be my story,” he said. “I saw a quote, ‘remember who you wanted to be,’ and I [thought] about that 11-year-old boy, who he wanted to be, and I really just wanted to be a commander. I wanted to be able to have a good influence on those around me.”
Dandridge lost 30 pounds in 18 months and attended the Captain’s Career Course, where he passed height and weight and scored a 550 in the Army Combat Fitness Test. He said he expects to take command in May of 2022.
Dandridge said his personal challenges have further inspired him to help Soldiers achieve their professional goals.
“I would just like to encourage all the young officers, all the young NCOs, because times will get hard, it will sometimes seem unfair, but you really just kind of see what kind of person you can be whenever the ball is in your court,” he said. “Some of us can decide, ‘I’m the victim here and that’s just going to be the end of it,’ and some of us can adapt and overcome, and I think everyone has the capability to do it.
“I would just encourage them to reach out to not only themselves, but their friends, their battle buddies, to also just be there, because I had my fair share of people in my corner,” Dandridge continued. “It’s hard to do it alone. And that’s the best part about the Army is we’re not alone. We always have someone there to help push us along.”