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Eye opener

Military duty fosters greater appreciation

If you would have told me in high school that I was going to be in the military, I probably would have laughed at you. It wasn’t a real consideration for me. I grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., and after high school enrolled at the University of Florida. While I was there, a peer of mine was involved in the school’s ROTC program. He said, “Why don’t you come take this class as an elective?”

I took a couple of ROTC classes, and I fell in love with it. I felt like this is what I was called to do or be. It fit my disposition. After I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2004, I went into active duty with the U.S. Army as an Infantry Officer. I started at Fort Benning, Ga., where I attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course, or IOBC. After IOBC, I attended Ranger School. I was assigned my first duty station at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the 82nd Airborne Division, specifically First Brigade, Second Battalion. I was an Airborne Infantry Platoon Leader and was deployed to Afghanistan until early 2006.

After returning from Afghanistan, I came down with orders for the Old Guard, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, at Fort Myer, Va., next to Arlington National Cemetery. I was a Casket Platoon Leader, and for the next year-and-a-half helped conduct funerals in the cemetery. During that time, I was also asked to lead the U.S. Army Drill Team, which is a showcase unit. We traveled around to a lot of high-visibility events, such as NASCAR races.

During that time, I submitted my packet for the Special Forces qualification course at Fort Bragg. I was ultimately selected to become a Green Beret. When my time at Fort Myer was done, I moved back to Fort Bragg to start training courses there. I was a Detachment Commander, eventually finding my way to Operational Detachment 3231. I did two more combat tours to Afghanistan with that unit before finishing out my time in the military in 2013.

The single most important thing being in the military taught me is to appreciate what I have as an American. When you are plunged into a third world-type environment, as I was in Afghanistan, you see that not everything is as we see it through the windshield of our cars and the comforts of our home. It opened my eyes about being open-minded about things, cultures, and people. I feel like I am a much better person because of my time in the military. I wouldn’t undo any of it.

When I first separated from the service, I wasn’t like “I’m going into farming. That’s what I’m doing.” My family made the decision to be close to grandparents so we relocated to Claiborne County. Around the same time, I had a growing interest in agriculture. I started picking up literature about it and talking to people who were already farming. Like taking the ROTC classes in college, I realized I really enjoyed it. It’s challenging. It serves a purpose. And you get to pilot your own ship, so to speak.

We started with four cows in 2014 and have grown the herd from there. We grew the herd first before we could get to production. We can only run about 30 head based off of the pasture we have. Beef is our primary endeavor right now, but we dabble in other things like chicken and honeybees. And we get to participate in this as a family, which is important to me.

– Submitted by Chad Shields, Tazewell

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