This week for “A Veteran’s Story,” I talked to a few veterans serving among Rockdale’s finest with the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office.
Cpl. Dexter Harris
Cpl. Dexter Harris of the Rockdale Sheriff’s Department joined the Army in 1987, just three weeks out of high school.
Of his basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Harris said, "I enjoyed it. The training gives a young man structure in his life."
Harris requested communications training and received his wish.
"I was sent to Fort Gordon in Augusta to acquire expertise in the operation of the relay site for Patriot missiles." His next stop: a Patriot missile site on a small mountain near Ansbach, Germany.
"I climbed 200-foot towers for repair work. The communication site is vital for the Patriots. Our site controlled four or five missile launch sites around our area. I liked Germany. The beer wasn’t bad, either."
October 1990 to June 991 — Harris joined the coalition in Operation Desert Storm.
"We had sites in Jabail and Riyadh, then moved into Kuwait. When the war started, we were terrified at first, but then you get used to it. You have a job to do. We knocked down several Scuds (missiles), and that was good, but I never got used to the desert heat, and quite honestly, the Muslim call-to-prayer was irritating."
Alcohol is not available in Muslim Saudi Arabia, but apparently the imported Filipino labor force had something.
Harris recalled, "The stuff was in a clear bottle. We’re not sure what the stuff was, but for those who wanted to take a sip, I guess it was OK. At least nobody went blind, I think."
Lt. Duane Day
Lt. Duane Day joined the Navy in 1986.
"I was sent to Chicago for training in February," he said. "Let me say this about Chicago in the month of February: It’s cold, real cold."
Trained as a hull technician, Day learned welding, pipe-fitting, and metal fabrication.
Day’s next port-of-call was the Charleston Naval Shipyard. He said, "Let me say this about Charleston: It’s a lot warmer than Chicago."
Day repaired and switched out steam valves and piping on cruisers, destroyers, mine sweepers and frigates.
"I was also trained for the auxiliary police force by the Marines and enjoyed the training. It was like S.W.A.T. team training. That’s where my interest in police work got its kick-start."
Deputy Buck McCoy
Deputy Buck McCoy said, "I quit high school to join the Navy in 1978. I was sent to Orlando to train with Mickey Mouse and the Mouseketeers. I completed training, but Mickey Mouse and the Mouseketeers didn’t make it. I loved the Navy, and I still miss it."
McCoy spent 20 years on active duty and 10 years in the reserves.
"I worked with the 16-foot surface-to-air Terrier missile. I kept maintenance on The Bird. My first ship was the guided missile cruiser the USS Richmond K. Turner."
Lt. Day spoke up: "I worked on the Turner in Charleston."
McCoy: "You’re kidding me."
Lt. Day: "Sure did."
McCoy: "Small world. Anyway, later I froze to death at the Great Lakes, served on the USS Long Beach, and spent several years in Hawaii at the training command."
Asked if he enjoyed Hawaii, McCoy said, "Are you kidding me? After the Great Lakes, it was paradise!"
McCoy, just like Lt. Day, was assigned at different times to the auxiliary police.
"I enjoyed that, too," he said. "I guess that prepared me for police work."
Deputy Alvin Nealey
Deputy Alvin Nealey joined the U.S. Marines in 1978.
"I was right out of high school," he said. "The sand fleas at Parris Island feasted on me for a few months, but I enjoyed the training. I even looked forward to the training. Yeah, it was tough, but I needed that in my life at the time."
For the next 20 years, Nealey would participate in several missions that made military history. He helped protect the secret site in Saudi Arabia that was the launch base for the botched Iranian hostage rescue during the Carter administration.
"That was disappointing," he said. "We lost people, and that really hurt, especially when our special forces had to abort the mission and failed to rescue the hostages."
Nealey served at Camp Pendleton as a drill instructor, trained recruits in Marietta, Ga., and then returned to board a ship in California for Desert Storm.
"I was aboard the assault ship the USS Tripoli," he said. "When we arrived in the Persian Gulf, the Captain informed us, ‘No incoming or outgoing mail and no communication. You’re aboard the oldest ship in the Navy, so tonight enjoy lobster tail and a good meal. The Navy can afford to lose this ship.’ And I’m thinking, ‘This don’t sound too good.’’’
Nealey continued, "The next day we moved toward Kuwait as part of a ‘fake invasion’ to throw the Iraqis into an unneeded defensive position. All of a sudden, BAM! We hit two huge magnetic mines. The explosion blew a hole in the Tripoli about 40 feet long. She started to settle in the water.
"Blood was dripping down my face from a couple of head wounds, but I grabbed my weapon and went topside. We spotted 22 mines on the water. British wooden hull mine sweepers came in and swept the area, destroying the mines, but we ended up in foxholes for the rest of the war."
"The Air Force was dropping bombs, a lot of bombs," Nealey said, "Man, was it noisy. We couldn’t see much because of all the oil fields on fire, but what we could see was awesome. We could hear the Volkswagens flying overhead. (Volkswagens were huge 2,000-pound projectiles fired by the World War II battleship USS Missouri). Then the Iraqis started to give up, thousands of them. They were scared and hungry. No food, no water; all they wanted was something to eat."
Nealey served on the island of Diego Garcia, smack-dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 17 square miles of sand and coral, in the middle of nowhere.
"It’s a crucial base in time of war," he said. "You had to have a top-secret clearance just to protect your own operational area."
Following more recruit training and additional duties in intelligence, Nealey chose to retire his military uniform after 20 years to don another uniform, that of a Rockdale County Sheriff’s deputy.
Their final thoughts:
Harris, now an 18-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, said, "I believe all kids need some type of training after high school. They need the discipline, the structured training. It will keep them out of trouble and help prepare them for a future."
Day: "The military is a good start for a young person. My son is in the Navy and has re-enlisted. I’m proud of him."
McCoy: "If I hadn’t gone into the Navy, I’d probably have gotten into trouble. We could save a lot of kids by exposing them to the discipline required in the military. They’d do OK; they’d do alright."
Nealey: "I loved the Marines. I loved the brotherhood. We always had each other’s back. You know, I had a job offer from the VA, a desk and coat and tie. No way. Give me a uniform."
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at email@example.com or aveteransstory.us.