It’s not unheard of, but it’s rare - to enlist in the military on the tail end of your 30s. But Staff Sgt. Stephen Berry, a satellite network supervisor with Bravo Company, 53rd Signal Battalion at Fort Meade, Maryland, did just that a decade ago.
Hailing from Moore, Oklahoma, on the southside of the Oklahoma City metroplex, Berry wanted to join the military right out of high school, but his first wife, whom he married while she was still in high school, frowned on the idea. Instead, he worked various jobs and spent 10 years at FedEx where he worked his way up from a driver to an operations manager.
At 37 years old, he wanted a change and this time around, his second wife, along with his kids, supported his decision to join the military. His first choice was the Air Force, but they refused him because of his age. Then came a toss up between the Navy and Army, but with a Navy recruiter pushing him toward the low-manned nuclear submarine technician career field, and an Army recruiter who allowed him to choose whatever job he wished, he went green, and enlisted as a satellite communications maintainer (25S).
Next came basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, which in one's late 30s, can be a bit challenging, mentally and physically, than say, for someone in their late teens or early 20s. Moore graduated, although he admitted he had to recover a bit longer from some of the many physical activities that were thrown at him.
“I definitely felt my age,” Berry said. “I think I did fine though and enjoyed it. Some of the trainees looked to me for mentorship as I had a bit more life experience. I was the oldest one around to include the drill sergeants and a lot of the leadership, but I didn’t have any issues with that.”
His first duty station was at Fort Polk, Louisiana, with the 4rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division. His next assignment took him to Kuwait for a year with the 56th Signal Company before he was stationed at the 67th Signal Battalion at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He then deployed to a dozen or so locations in the Middle East with the 67th Expeditionary Signal Battalion as part of then U.S. Army Central’s Commander Lt. Gen. Michael Garrett’s satellite communications team.
“It was a great opportunity to be a part of a mission directly supporting a three-star general,” Berry said of the deployment. “To have been chosen for that was an honor, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Another honor and highlight of his career was serving on the Army honor guard at Fort Gordon. Berry gained immense satisfaction from the additional duty, which consisted of formal ceremonies and funeral processions.
“It meant a lot to me to be the link between the grieving families and the military, and to show proper honors to deceased Soldiers,” Berry said of the honor guard. “I really enjoyed wearing the dress uniform and representing the Army’s very formal ceremonial side of things. I took a lot of pride in it.”
He also takes pride in working in a Wideband Satellite Operations Communications Center at Fort Meade, where he has worked for the last year-and-a-half. He works with a small team in ensuring 24-hour, 7-day a week, 365-day operation of satellite communications. WSOC facilities monitor these assigned satellites, terminals and users, while protecting wideband spectrum, and maintaining the health and welfare of the satellites.
“It’s amazing to think how many people around the world your work is affecting when it comes to satellite communications,” Berry said. “Our customers can always rest assured that they will be able to access the information they need from their satellites due to our mission.”
The mission will soon be absorbed into the U.S. Space Force, and Berry is excited to be one of the organization’s newest Guardians.
“I am excited to be a part of something new,” Berry said. “I don’t see my job changing all that much, but it will be interesting to see how the transition goes, and to be a part of a brand new service branch solely dedicated to space.”