FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Va. — The Army will soon say goodbye to one of its most awarded journalists.
Terrance Anthony Bell of the Fort Gregg-Adams garrison public affairs office — popularly known around the installation as “T” — will retire on August 31. Bell has been recognized in the Army's Keith L. Ware Communications Awards Competition as both its Civilian Journalist of the Year and Photographer of the Year, in addition to the consistent awards earned over the past two decades in annual Army and DoD photojournalism competitions. His work has often been featured on the Army.mil and Defense.gov homepages; some stories attracting attention from national civilian news networks.
"He is a master storyteller," said Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, commanding general of U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Gregg-Adams.
Bell skillfully wrote many of the stories surrounding the installation’s redesignation this past year, including stories about namesakes Charity Adams and Arthur Gregg and their contributions to the Army, he said.
"So many things - so many facets of life - he's had the privilege of telling, and we've had the privilege of consuming those great stories," Simerly said. "And you know, there's a famous army journalist, Ernie Pyle -- and I might be dating myself a little bit. He told stories about Soldiers that appealed to the American people and explained to them what we do and why we serve, and Terrence Bell deserves to be mentioned in that same class of journalist, who has told the story of soldiers so well."
Bell’s success is the result of a serendipitous start to his previous military career; a DoD Defense Information School instructor who refused to let him quit; and a strong desire to be in the company of Soldiers regardless of where they were serving.
Hailing from Norfolk, Bell said his decision to join the Army was heavily influenced by family members who served, including an uncle who fought with the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam and a brother who enlisted in the field artillery corps.
“My uncle stood for something. He did something for his country, and I was always impressed by that. It got me thinking around age 16 what I wanted to do with my life after high school. I wasn’t considering college. … I just knew I had to do something to get out on my own and make money somehow.”
His brother, who enlisted the same year, came home a “changed man” after basic and advanced individual training. Bell noticed his sense of confidence and stronger character. It cemented his decision to follow a similar path, and at age 17 he signed up as a clerk typist.
“I quickly discovered that I hated being tethered to a desk all day,” Bell pointed out. “By the end of my first enlistment, I knew I had to find something else, or I wouldn’t survive in the military. It had to be a job that would allow me to move and get out and do things.”
An earlier encounter with an Army journalist had intrigued him. He didn’t know such a job existed in the military, and it seemed like the sort of thing he was cut out to do — a chance to be out with the troops and write about those experiences. Bell took a shot at auditioning to become a broadcaster but was turned down. He was successful, however, in gaining entrance into print journalism.
“I was confident I could do this,” Bell said. “I took an interest in the news when I was like 8 or 9 years old and began to watch '60 Minutes’ every week. … I’ve only missed few episodes to this day.”
Learning the actual journalism profession, however, proved a bit more challenging than he anticipated. Bell struggled with grammar — an obviously huge component of writing – and it was a tough blow to his ego when an instructor at DINFOS told him he needed to repeat the course.
“I was crushed,” Bell recalled. “It was more than just the poor writing skills that was embarrassing. There I was as a buck sergeant, among a whole bunch of (initial enlistment Soldiers) in the class, who wasn’t making it through. It was demoralizing. I felt like I was the one who should be setting the example.”
Subsequent class instructor Staff Sgt. Joy Rattan — who had been selected as the top print journalist in the Army the year prior — recognized the telltale signs of a student who was ready to give up and made it her business to change Bell’s perspective.
“She saw me as the wounded duck cowering in the back of the classroom, and started to build me up day after day, saying stuff that would boost my confidence,” Bell said. “She told me she knew many people who couldn’t pass all of their tests but were out in the field doing great work as Army journalists. It helped me see things differently, and even though I still struggled, I made it to graduation with her support.”
Bell’s first duty station as a military writer was Fort Riley, Kansas; home of the 1st Infantry Division. He primarily covered evening and weekend sports events, but the job also offered ample opportunities for deployment and field work. He proudly noted how he “got hungry” for tough assignments and stories that had not been told. It was the sort of appetite that quickly set him apart from peers.
“I knew I still had a lot to learn as a writer, but I recognized pretty quickly that our business is about getting out of the office and doing the legwork. Great stories don’t just fall out of the sky. Talking to people and listening to what they’re saying is the only way to find those rare gems (of reporting),” Bell observed.
Gaining a reputation as someone willing and capable of producing tough stories was a good thing. Bell was sent to El Gorah, Egypt, as part of a Multinational Force and Observers organization comprised of representatives from 12 countries. He labeled it the best assignment of his career.
“I was asked by my boss, who was a former editor of Soldiers Magazine, to interview and write a story about his friend, a Vietnam veteran. The majority of those individuals aren’t always willing to talk about the things they saw and experienced. Somehow, though, we connected and he just let it all out, including the horrific stuff he experienced. When the story came out, it blew up. Everybody was talking about it. That was a pivotal point in my career as I truly recognized the potential power of writing a great story.”
Over the remainder of his 22-year military career, Bell would go on to serve at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Fort Bragg (recently renamed Fort Liberty), North Carolina. He had a knack for capturing high-quality, storytelling photos and that earned him a spot as a photojournalism instructor at DINFOS.
“My last military assignment was as first sergeant of the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment at Fort Bragg,” Bell said. “It was a time in my life when I had to make a decision in the interest of my family over the good of the Army. … I have a special needs child, and I just had enough of deployments and leadership obligations that kept me away from them.”
Returning to Virginia in 2001, he found a job the following year as an airport security agent thinking it would offer stability and more time at home. The Transportation Security Administration, however, was revamping itself in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the many policy and procedure changes created chaos for those working the front lines. Within a couple of years, Bell had burned out once again and was ready to return to public affairs.
In 2005, he joined the Traveller newspaper staff at Fort Lee (since renamed Fort Gregg-Adams). Calling forth his “journalistic hunger” once again, he became known for regularly producing captivating feature articles and picture layouts. He tackled the hard jobs like zero-dark-thirty coverage of the Army Best Warrior Competition, which was conducted at the installation for many years. He wrote tough stories about people facing personal battles and the heroic work of mortuary affairs units.
“T. Bell has a certain way about him that is immediately disarming,” said Stephen Baker, director of the Fort Gregg-Adams Public Affairs Office since 2013. “He might be a couple decades out of uniform, but T is a Soldier through-and-through who knows how to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. I’ve seen him interview everyone from the newest privates all the way up to the highest-ranking generals, and nearly every time he was able to engage them in easy conversation as if they’d been friends for years.”
On the cusp of his retirement, Bell said he looks forward to a less stressful lifestyle. Future plans include enjoyment of his extensive music collection, smoking cigars and listening to podcasts in his garage, reading and writing books, traveling with his wife Donna, and learning to be a grandpa.
“I’m departing with a great sense of accomplishment because I believe I gave 100 percent throughout my Army journalism career,” Bell reflected. “There’s a bit of sadness. One of the things I’m going to miss is being able to talk to Soldiers and leaders every day. That’s the part of this job I loved the most. But I will tell you the 42 years I spent in military and federal service have been the most fulfilling of my life. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Editor’s Note: Patrick Buffett is the former editor of the Fort Lee Traveller and longtime command information officer for the garrison’s Public Affairs Office. He retired from Army civilian service in December 2022.