FORT LEE, Va. – While Virginia Luther no longer walks this earth, her act of care and concern 14 years ago not only endures but has blossomed beyond what she imagined as her children continue to find purpose and rewarding opportunities in the U.S. Army.
The backstory takes place in Arcadia, Fla. Virginia’s son, Dominique Luther – now a sergeant first class and Sacramento, Calif., recruiter – recalled how his mother used trickery as a means to push him toward enlistment.
“I was just getting off the night shift (at Walmart) and was about 30 minutes away from the house. She calls me and says, ‘Hey, come home, it’s an emergency!’”
“What’s going on?” Luther responded with alarm, but his mother abruptly ended the call.
Befuddled, Luther’s mind raced. Did something happen to his father, Virgil? Maybe one of his eight siblings was in trouble. Luther hurried home while unsuccessfully trying to reach his mother.
“I finally get back to the house, and when I walk in, there is an Air Force recruiter sitting on the couch,” recalled Luther with a trailing chuckle. “I looked at her, and she looked at me, shaking her head. Then, I said, ‘OK, I get what you’re trying to say.’”
Two days earlier, Luther and his mother had discussed career options with him expressing satisfaction about his current status. The third-oldest child was a former college football player with dreams of playing professionally, biding his time in retail while living with a girlfriend.
Virginia, however, expressed desires for something greater than football or stocking shelves: she wanted for her son a life of purpose and substance – one that could be found in the institution to which her husband once belonged.
“She wanted me to try something new, saying I could do three years and go back and play football if wanted to,” Luther said. Trusting his mother’s wisdom, he listened to the Airmen.
“Overall, I didn’t really like what he was saying [about the opportunities available],” Luther summarized, also noting how he remained open to his mother’s feelings about the importance of joining the armed forces. Thusly, he eventually turned to the Army and heard a pitch that was more to his liking. He became a Soldier in 2009.
At 19 years old and worlds of opportunity awaiting him, Luther’s first assignment was in Hawaii, which he found to be every bit of the “island paradise” promised in travel ads. It made him eager to experience more in the way of travel and cultural immersion.
“I was like, ‘OK, I can’t complain about Hawaii,’” remembered Luther with a laugh. “So, I reenlisted and asked to go to Europe, where I also had a great time. All of it was a great experience and here I am 13 years later.”
Luther devoured opportunities for travel, training and education. He relished the medical benefits. Earning promotion to SFC in 12 years as a 91B wheeled-vehicle mechanic, he wore success like NFL Hall of Fame inductees wear those distinctive yellow blazers.
All of it was apparent to younger brothers Solomon and Virgil, who are more than 10 years his junior. When the elder Luther returned home on holidays and other occasions, the youngsters captured the optics of his pride and confidence. They took note of his enthusiasm while discussing future prospects. They were witness to the financial resources that helped to support the family.
The younger siblings eventually became sold – not necessarily on the Army – but on their big brother and what he had become worlds away from a struggling family living in a small economically depressed town located near Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“He gave us motivation because of how he gave to our family,” said 19-year-old Virgil, noting his brother would frequently make house repairs while on leave and filled the family’s many financial gaps. “It showed us how he really is as a person, and how he developed the whole time he was gone.”
Considering what the younger brothers thought of their older sibling, it was a no-brainer they would eventually follow in his footsteps – providing they were ready, said SFC Luther.
“I definitely wanted them to make their own decision,” he said. “My decision was for me. I was coerced in a way, and I was resistant to it. Considering where I am in my life today, I appreciate it a lot more. With my brothers, I was like, ‘I’m not going to force you (to join). I’m not going tell you what you need to do, but I’m going to show you what it can do for you.’”
Solomon and Virgil did pursue opportunities following graduation from Port Charlotte High School where they both played football. Solomon attended Georgia Military College and Virgil took a shot at trade school. Somehow, those experiences left them wanting for something greater.
“It was about having more opportunities,” said 20-year-old Solomon. “I wanted to build myself as a man and try to see how things really are. I wanted to open myself up to the world.”
For Virgil, it was helping and having the means to share.
“I wanted to do the same things my brother did,” he said. “I want to be the one who comes back to help my dad fix things around the house; to help his family and help his community.”
Virgil made clear that leaving Arcadia to pursue opportunities was not abandoning the people and community critical to his family’s well-being during times of need. Such was the day three years ago when Virginia took her last breath.
“When our mom passed, they helped us throughout the whole process,” he recalled of the local community. “We want to ‘shout-out’ everybody there because they helped us come together as one and helped us stay together.”
Unity became a theme for the brothers. Solomon and Virgil decided to enlist in the Army together as a means of providing mutual support.
“When my older brother joined, he didn’t have anyone to lean on,” said Solomon. “He said, ‘If we decide to go together, we’ll at least have someone to talk to.’”
Solomon and Virgil made decisions to join earlier this year. SFC Luther, the recruiter and subject of his brothers’ emulation, flew them out to California for further consultation. His California lifestyle sealed the deal. The brothers enlisted March 20 as 88N traffic management coordinators; and later, underwent basic training together at Fort Jackson, S.C., and advanced individual training at Fort Lee’s Sustainment Center of Excellence.
Staff Sgt. Jesse Johnson, the Luthers’ drill sergeant assigned to the Transportation School’s 508th Transportation Training Detachment, 58th Trans. Battalion, said it was evident the brothers came from a strong lineage.
“Every time we had a training exercise and needed volunteers, they were always the first ones up, ready to learn, and asking questions,” he recalled. “They are very hard-working Soldiers, always ready to move and ready to train.”
The Luther brothers departed Fort Lee Sept. 12 and shipped off to their first duty station at Camp Carroll, South Korea.
Reflecting on his enlistment decision, Solomon said his initial training was challenging and fruitful but not nearly as difficult as peers made it out to be.
“People said the Army is this or that, or hard in general,” he said, “but if you do what is required, you won’t have any problems.”
Virgil said his opinion was shaped by the Army of 10 years ago, the one his brother experienced as a young Soldier and the one in which drill sergeants “shock and awed” trainees into submission. He realized later the Army of old has long passed.
“The Army wasn’t really like I took it to be,” he said.
Despite its continuing evolution, the Army is a still a means to contribute to the nation’s defense. It also is a tried and true platform for self-improvement. Many of the country’s best and brightest have served in the Army and have cited their experiences in uniform as the impetus for their high achievements.
This hearkens back to a mother in a small town who – out of care and concern – moved her son to make a decision for himself that would have residual effects, creating a dynamic all of its own. SFC Luther is now the force of change within his family, living and pursuing a life of meaningful purpose while providing his siblings with positives examples. He said the intent is to impact.
“I told them, ‘Look, life is not always about surviving, it’s about living,’” he said, noting he frequently shared with siblings his travel experiences to countries such as Europe, Australia, Japan and Korea. “There’s a whole world out there far beyond Arcadia.”
Both Solomon and Virgil have already stepped into worlds beyond their hometown. They have goals of becoming warrant officers – an aspiration of SFC Luther, who was recently accepted for warrant officer school – and have access to a myriad of other possibilities.
Worlds of opportunity await them, so to speak.
Those interested in worlds beyond themselves can call a local recruiter or visit www.goarmy.com.