When I walked into the Army Career Center close to my home in Colorado on January 13th, 2016 to interview Staff Sergeant David Patterson, I was full of excitement and anxious to learn about yet another military member’s story. His story is certainly an aspiring and encouraging one.
Staff Sergeant David A. Patterson
United States Army
Almost eleven years serving in the US Army and stationed in the state of Colorado as a recruiter, Staff Sergeant Patterson says his career in the military is a successful and accomplishing one. He got inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club (SAMC) in September of 2011.
Why did you decide to join the US Army?
When I was a freshman in high school, my dad gave me options. He said, “In order to stay in my household, you either go to college, you get a good job, or you join the military.” At the time school was not for me, so I ended up choosing the military. During my sophomore year 9/11 had taken place. At that time, I felt like it was my calling and solidified my answer of joining. It was a tough decision, not necessarily for me, but for my mom. She had to sign all my paperwork to consent for me joining.
Where else have you been stationed?
Basic Training: Fort Knox, Kentucky
Advanced Individual Training (AIT): Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
Fort Steward, Georgia
Fort Hood, Texas
Schofield Field Barracks, Hawaii
How do you feel while you’ve been in the military? (Successful, lonely, etc…)
When I first joined, I thought, “Wow! Did I make the right decision?” Once I completed basic training and AIT, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Once I came on deployment orders and was stationed overseas, it was a reality check. I knew what I signed up for. I knew an actual deployment was going to happen. But when it actually hit me in the face, it’s one of things like, “Hey, its game time. You need to get mentally ready.” The problem with it was, we knew what could take place, the ultimate sacrifice. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment upon my return. I’m not going to say that it was just a walk in park because that is not what my deployment experience was like. It hit a rough bump in the road one time. I had to call my family and say I will be going back again after my 6 months back home. It took a toll on me and my buddies, because it was our second Christmas in less than a year that we weren’t home with our families. All we had was each other which built our bond. But throughout my entire career being in the military, I have had no other feeling than a sense of accomplishment.
What has it been like while you have been serving?
As a young soldier, not being so much in charge of anybody, I thought only about myself at the time. As I earned my Sergeant stripes, I was only 23 years old and it hit me with the reality that I now have everyone to the left of me in formation relying on me for more reasons than one. It’s been challenging, but it’s a good challenge. For example, I went to be a Platoon Sergeant at only 26 years old to be in charge of 35 personnel. That’s very tough to handle. But there’s been so many different challenges, that nothing has been the same. In the Army you have to have “thick-skin” and be open to suggestions. The Army definitely has a strong base of teamwork. I may not have been through every situation, but one of my battle buddies might have and I can lean on them if I need to for help and advice.
What was training like for you?
It was good. I was pretty physically active already with high school sports and stuff like that. It was challenging, but I think what it was more of was the mental games. I was taken out of my regular living environment to: “You’re going to do things the Army way”, “You’re going to get up at this time”, and “You’re going to make sure X, Y, and Z are done before you go down for formation.” It was all a lot to take in at the time. It was nothing that wasn’t obtainable. That’s part of the reason the Army emphasizes teamwork. Because if you don’t act together as a team, and you’re all about yourself, you will never make it in the military in general. The mental games of: “I can’t listen to music every day” or “I can’t call home every day” was difficult. You had to rely on letters from home.
You enlisted, what was your experience like with that?
I was happy, because I knew this was the route I wanted to go. It was more of my mom having to deal with it during the time frame. I mean every parent wants to protect their kids. She says I’m as stubborn as my dad which he was in the Marine Corps. She knew I was that hard-driven ‘this is what I want to do’ type of thing. It really ate her up inside. Now she sees me differently – in a good way.
What specifically is your job in the military?
As of last June of 2015, I am a permanent recruiter.
Have you built good friendships?
I have built great families. Being in the Army, you definitely meet people from not only our nation but a couple different countries. We become more than just friends. We’re families. You go through the same stuff. You’re so close, and you’re away from your regular family. Being on an Army base is like: ‘Hey, you know who you really can depend on.’ The crazy thing is that where I’m from, I can depend more on my Army family than my real family back home in LA. I would definitely say I have built great relationships within my Army family.
What does your family think of you being in the military?
They love it! It’s definitely something they take pride in. My mom will get fired up over a couple things – in a good way though. I got a certain aunt. Her son just left to boot camp, and she was all thrilled and supportive. My mom went, “Wait a minute, where was the support for the military when your nephew was in the actual war instead of training areas?” The military isn’t something to flaunt about; it’s not a fashion statement. My dad being in the Marine Corps, he and I have that little rivalry but he’s very proud and I also outrank him. My dad and my mom are especially proud of me for becoming a member of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.
Were there any moments you were afraid?
Absolutely! I didn’t have a desk job during deployment (not in any way am I knocking those jobs). I want to say that probably when I heard the first round go by things got real then. There was definitely more times. Now that I’ve moved up in rank and life, becoming a father for instance, it’s a different kind worry now. My fear has gone from deployment style to an ‘I really hope my kids are successful in life.’ I’m very structured with my kids as far as I want them to be the best. I’m hoping they are. I know they won’t be because there’s always someone bigger, better, and faster. But as long as I know they’re pushing themselves every day, I know they’ll be successful.
Did you serve in a war?
Yes, the tours I served in were Operation Iraqi Freedom III and Operation Iraqi Freedom V.
Do you feel like your career in the military has been a successful and fulfilling one?
I really think so. I have the opportunity within 11 years this upcoming April to get my first look at Sergeant First Class (E7) which means I am one step closer to making the highest Enlisted rank at E9 (Command Sergeant Major). So at 11 years, I will then have the opportunity to continuously move up. Since day one in the Army, it’s been, “Hey, what I can do to move forward.” I have never been stagnant. So in my opinion, yes I have definitely had a very successful and fulfilling career, and I hope it will continue.
Any stories you’d like to add?
There was one time where I was going through my recruiting process and my recruiter came to my house. My dad, being prior service military, he greeted my recruiter with, “If you *bleeping* lie to my kid, I’m going to kick you the *bleep* out.” At the time I was like, “Holy cow! This is how it’s starting.” I actually still have good contact with my recruiter, and we both still laugh about it today.
The two final questions below give each military member the opportunity to share their voice in the issue “Connecting & Protecting” is addressing.
Do you feel like there is a disconnection between the military and the general public?
It’s actually funny that you ask that at the right time. Speaking with a football coach and Biology teacher from a local high school who had the opportunity to go down to San Antonio to get a better idea of what the Army has to offer, he came back and said, “It changed my whole perception of the Army.” (Because he was unaware of how educated we actually are.) It’s a big misconception that if you don’t go to college, you’re going to join the military and that’s it. It’s a last resort. The teacher/coach learning about the actual educational opportunities and the job opportunities, his entire mindset changed. That’s what we as recruiters really try to do. Because people think your life is over when you join, and it’s really not. It actually helps with a lot of college and what not. I would definitely say there is a disconnection. But if we could convince one person at a time, then those people will become an ambassador for us: “They’re not what you actually think they are. They actually have these programs that will really help you.”
Any ideas on how this issue could be fixed?
All we can do is to continue educating people of all the programs offered in the military, work with our local high schools and colleges to allow them to see what the military is really about, and just to continue to educate.