FORT STEWART, Ga. - When Capt. Dhyan Tarver was growing up, being in the military never crossed his mind.

“I’d see Army commercials and I’d think, ‘Nope, not doing that,’ he said with a laugh. “I wanted to play professional football, the same things that most high school football players dream of.”

Active in the drama department as well as the football and track teams at his school in San Antonio, Texas, Tarver was looking forward to attending a big college with a division one rating.

“I went to West Point on a recruiting trip,” Capt. Tarver began to explain. “I didn’t even know West Point was the Army. But I went on the trip and I liked the idea of being part of something that was greater than myself. One of my goals was to play division one football, and I wanted the best education I could get, because at some time we all stop playing sports. West Point satisfied all that and more.”

So Capt. Tarver was appointed as a Cadet.

Captain Tarver’s parents were both raised in inner-city Detroit, a fact which has never been lost to their son.

“My parents worked their butts off, and came out on top,” he explained. “The only reason my dad was even able to go to college was because Michigan State was doing a program that took inner-city youth and put them in college to see what they made of themselves; he owns his own business now. So that’s why West Point just kind of seemed like the next step for me.”

Raised in the suburbs of San Antonio, Capt. Tarver was a long way from the streets of Detroit that raised his parents. But their drive to excel and improve has always been close to his heart.

“My parents really wanted to expose me to a lot,” he said. “They definitely valued education, they encouraged me in sports, and I saw what it did to mold me. I wouldn’t have been able to play sports if I wouldn’t have gotten A’s and B’s, and they started teaching me about good finances early on.”

He also began helping with community service projects.

“There were some churches we joined with, and we would go out in San Antonio and install fire alarm systems for schools in some disadvantaged areas… we went to food processing places to box up canned foods for food drives.”

Being raised to contribute back to the community is now one of Capt. Tarver’s greatest passions, and one he still finds time for even now, as an air defense captain in the Army.

Although jokingly called “Captain America” by his fellow staff officers, Capt. Tarver is just trying to do his bit to help.

“I like to try to show the kids, ‘Look guys, these are all the things I like to do. And you can do it too,’” he explained. “We all come from various backgrounds, and we have different strengths, and my goal is to even the playing field. So through tutoring and mentoring, I try to provide a bridge to help these kids get to where they want to be in life.”

Captain Tarver uses his status as a Soldier to help get kids to listen.

“Civilians see a lot of military as mentors, and sometime as heroes,” he explained. “So for us to come in, they automatically have respect for the uniform. So it’s a great opportunity that whatever we say, they definitely listen.”

The responsibility of stepping into the mentor role is not lost on Capt. Tarver.

“I see these kids, and they’re looking for guidance,” he said. “They want someone to help point the way. They might not always know how to ask it, but they listen, and they appreciate somebody that cares and is interested in their life. I think that is probably the number one thing, somebody who is interested in them. That’s what I try to provide.”

One of the biggest pieces of advice Capt. Tarver tries to instill in the kids is goal setting, something his parents instilled in him, that has helped him every step of his life.

“I learned a lot playing football, and I worked for the Center for Enhanced Performance at West Point, which focuses on the mental side of playing sports,” he elaborated. “In goal setting, you can put that mile marker down the road. Like if a kid says, ‘I want to be a millionaire.’ Ok, the hard part is filling the grey area in between, because there’s a million different ways to make that happen. I’m only 27-years-old, but I use all the experience I have to try to help them.”

The Army has offered Capt. Tarver plenty of experiences to draw upon.

“The Army has exposed me to a lot of things,” he said. “Two deployments teaching me how to act under stress, and being an officer, I am placed in leadership positions that in the civilian world I wouldn’t get to ‘til I was a lot older. So, I already have that comfort level of being in charge of 20, 40 Soldiers and being responsible for 60 million dollars worth of equipment.”
Although Capt. Tarver went the military route, he lets the kids he mentors make their own decisions.

“I try to show them they can go the Army route, or if there is something they really are passionate about, they can go that way,” he said. “There are ways to set goals and get wherever they set their mind too.”

At his prior duty station in El Paso, Texas, Capt. Tarver volunteered at a Boys and Girls Club. Now with Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division, Ft. Stewart, Ga., he spends his time at the local YMCA.

“I just do it because I like to help out and give,” he explained. “I know I have received a lot in my life, so I want to help out and show them the way. The greatest gift that you can give anybody is time, so that’s why I volunteer here. The part that is most meaningful to me is just sitting down with them and being interested in their life. “