(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the Army.

Where would I be in life without it? I have no idea, as that is impossible to determine. But I can tell you where I am.

For 36 years, I have led a comfortable life with a solid standard of living that includes excellent benefits through continuous employment, allowing me to receive free health, dental and vision care as a Soldier, and very affordable similar benefits as an Army Civilian.

Quite frankly, the commercial employment sector does not offer new recruits benefits similar to the uniformed Army, along with 30 days paid vacation, and a laundry list of other important benefits, such as education, that can set the stage for the rest of your life. (See your local recruiter for more details.)

Likewise, there are many benefits as an Army Civilian, like Uncle Sam matching your savings plan up to 5% every paycheck.

There are many reasons that come to mind when considering joining the military. Some of those questions may be: Why would you want to join? What’s in it for you? Can you serve your country and have a gratifying hitch or career in the service? What happens after you serve?

When I joined the Army in 1986, I signed up for four years. From 1977 to 1983, I went through post-high school education and received an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree. For three years I lived through jobs that didn’t pay well, had no early growth potential, and offered zilch in benefits.

Of course it was a different world then – computers were in the infant stages and of course there was no internet, there was no USAJobs, and I didn’t have a clue on how to properly market myself.

So in late 1985 I walked into an Army recruiter’s office, looking to gain valuable work experience. I wanted to have something rock-solid for my resume. I wanted to do something that would illustrate many things about me that a future employer would find attractive, like among other things, serving our country.

But guess what I eventually found? I found my future and permanent employer – the Army. While everyone’s experience in the military is unique, as no one goes down the same path, I learned I didn’t have to go into the corporate job market to thrive as a person – I found it in the Army. To put it another way, the grass was already green on this side of the fence.

The military offers unparalleled growth and responsibility opportunities. I also found this to be true: the only limitations placed on you are those you place on yourself. Period.

Everyone can’t do everything in the military, but you have the freedom to find your niche and excel. Again, it’s up to you.

The following are testimonies from Soldiers within the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, headquartered at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, serving in various capacities. They were once young people just like today’s youth searching for their calling, or next phase of life. As you can see, these former Civilians have found it and so can you.

• Spec. Philip Charles VanDerHeyden IV, G-1 Human Resources Specialist, with 18 months served.

“I joined the Army when I was turning 30 to change the course of my life. I didn’t like the niche I was stuck in and was determined to begin following the path that would lead me to accomplishing my dreams as a Civilian one day.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“The thing I like best about the Army is the purpose it gives my life. I have a real-world impact on the lives of Soldiers, and when I do my job right, I make their lives better, happier and easier. That kind of purpose had eluded me in my previous employment opportunities.”

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“I will continue to serve in the Army after my first contract because it is preparing me with all the tools I need to accomplish my goals. I feel good when I go to sleep at night knowing I am happy in the present and adequately preparing myself for the future.”

• Sgt. John Caruthers IV, G-2 Intelligence Analyst, with seven years served.

“I joined the Army two years after graduating high school. I was in college at the time and paying for classes out of pocket. I couldn’t continue paying for it myself so I enlisted to gain the college benefits and to start a new chapter in life.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“I enjoy the team aspect and camaraderie with how the Army functions.”

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“I continue serving today because I truly enjoy my job as an intelligence analyst and gaining knowledge and mentorship from my leadership. I also enjoy the camaraderie and teamwork in the Army.”

• Col. Courtney Abraham, commander of Joint Personnel Property Shipping Office – Mid Atlantic, Director Army Personal Property Lead Element, with 27 years served.

“I originally joined the Louisiana Army National Guard as a way to fund my college tuition. While in college, I joined the Army ROTC to pursue my desire for full-time service after graduation.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“The collective drive towards excellence in all aspects of service and mission.”

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“I continue to serve for the Soldiers and Families that my organization supports everyday -- understanding that our mission enables readiness for the greater Army and that our impact is critically influential in retaining these families for continued service.”

• Sgt. 1st Class Corinna Baltos, Public Affairs Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, with 19 years served.

“My uncle Leif went to military school for middle and high school. I used to watch his parades and thought it looked cool. So that is when I started thinking of joining the military. My grandparents encouraged this because they disapproved of the ‘hippie’ way my parents were raising me. Also, my family had a history of serving the country. I had two great-uncles who were career military; one Air Force, the other Army. My grandfather fought in World War II, his younger brother in Korea, and my dad was in Vietnam. My dad had two brothers who also joined the military. His brother, Neil, spent 12 years in the Navy as a pilot and Leif retired from the Army as a Criminal Investigation Division officer.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“I like moving and experiencing new things. As a kid we moved a lot due to my mother’s job (public relations). By the time I started high school I had been to 10 different schools in three states. So it was something that didn’t bother me too much. Also, while serving in the Army I was able to see and live all over the United States and other parts of the world, which has broadened my thinking and horizons. “

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“I continue to serve because I enjoy my job. One of the things that’s great about Public Affairs is I get to see other Soldiers’ jobs, and in some cases I get to do the fun parts of their job.”

• SFC Colin Fuel, Command Surgeon Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, with 21 years served.

“I joined for the opportunity to provide for my kids and family. Also as a part of family tradition. My grandfathers both served in World War II, my father and uncle served in Vietnam, and my mother was in the Air Force.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“The best thing about the Army is truly the people and diversity of assignments. I am a medic who has had all types of assignments which all utilize the same and different skill sets to work with Soldiers and Army Civilians.”

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“I continue to serve because I deeply enjoy what I do, and feel a strong sense of brotherhood with my fellow NCOs, the Soldiers and the officers in the Army, and there are not many places you can find that.”

• Maj. Jacki Velazquez, Community Outreach chief, with 13 years served.

“I joined to continue my family legacy of military service. I come from a large Navy and Army family but I chose Army because my dad was in the Army.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“The experiences, the people and the personal and professional growth.”

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“The Army is continuously changing and evolving and I feel I continue to grow and be challenged on a daily basis. I’m proud of my service and it’s an honor to be able to continue serving and build up the next generation of leaders.”

• Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Tyndall, Command Sergeant Major Operations Sergeant, with 16 years served.

“I watched a special on the Best Ranger Competition one night and realized I want to be like those guys.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“The opportunity to go to combat and we get paid to work out.”

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“I do not want to miss the next war.”

• Lt. Col. Kevin Niehoff, Command Chaplain, with 26 years served on active duty and Reserve duty.

“I joined the Army specifically -- chaplaincy -- because I believed that God was leading me in that direction. I looked to serve both God and Country as the motto of the Chaplain Corps is ‘Pro Deo et Patria,’ Latin for God and Country.”

What is the best thing you like about the Army?

“The best thing is that I feel I serve in an organization that is bigger than just myself. I have always enjoyed being part of a team.”

Why do you continue to serve in the Army?

“I continue to serve because I enjoy what I do and I enjoy being able to help those in need.”

As most uniformed people can attest to, you certainly don’t love the military the day you show up at basic training. But, like a lot of things, it grows on you.

Joining the service might be a plan for you or perhaps something longer. But one thing I can guarantee – it is a plan forward that that will help you grow as person, provide you with important responsibilities in the defense of our nation here and abroad, and you will discover your own rewards along the way.