Editor’s note: In an effort to develop an exhibit honoring our local veterans, the Itasca County Historical Society (ICHS) is gathering stories and photos about military experiences. The following is an excerpt from what was submitted by Grand Rapids native and current executive director of the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation Chris Fulton. The grand opening of the Itasca Veterans Project at ICHS is Nov. 9.
I’ll never forget the day that my Guidance Counselor at Grand Rapids Senior High School, Mr. Yocum, walked up to me in the winter of my senior year and told me I had a call from the gymnastics coach at West Point. I had to ask Mr. Yocum what West Point was.
After making a recruiting visit soon after, I was hooked on the United States Military Academy; not only could I continue a sport that I loved, but I’d be getting a great education and a guaranteed job! I didn’t excel at West Point (!), but I survived and graduated around the middle of my class of more than 900. I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Field Artillery on May 27, 1981 under the watchful eye of our commencement speaker, President Ronald Reagan.
Graduates of West Point have a five-year commitment to military service, so I headed out to make my mark as an Army officer, with the expectation in my mind that I could certainly get through those five years and then go seek fame and fortune doing something else as a civilian. The problem with that plan is that I found I really loved the Army life- the camaraderie, the adventure, and the leadership of other young adults who came from all walks of life to serve their country.
I retired as a Colonel on May 31, 2011 (30 years later) and what a great ride it was!
I find it hard to do justice in my “military story.” The memories run deep, as much about the people as the places. I hate to say it, but “you had to be there” is an apt expression looking back over the 17 moves by our family, the weeks and months and even years spent away from home in places that can only be termed “exotic.”
It wasn’t all enjoyable (especially the deployments), but it was definitely all very rewarding and fulfilling.
From my earliest years in Germany during the Cold War, to my latest years in the Green Zone along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad, I was able to see first-hand the goodness of this country I am fortunate enough to call “home.”
I am honored to have been given the privilege to be a part of the greatest military our world will ever know. Once a Solider - always a Soldier.
West Point, New York - Graduate Assistant, Men’s Gymnastic Program (1981-1982).
Commissioned as 2LT in the Field Artillery Branch, May 27, 1981.
Bayreuth, Germany - Squadron Fire Support Officers, 1st Squadron, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (1984-1985), Battery-level Field Artillery positions, Howitzer Battery, 1st Squadron, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (1982-1984).
Fort Lewis, Washington - Battery Commander, Headquarters Battery, 9th Infantry Division Artillery (1988-1990). Battery Commander, A-Battery, 1-84th Field Artillery (1986-1988). Battalion Adjutant, 1-84th Field Artillery (1986).
West Point, New York - Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Education (1992-1994). Instructor, Department of Physical Education (1991-1992).
Bamberg, Germany - Operations Officer. 1st Infantry Division Artillery (1997-1998). Operations Officer, 1-6th Field Artillery (1996-1997). Assistant Operations Officer, 3rd Infantry Division Artillery (1995-1996).
Fort Sill, Oklahoma - Deputy Brigade Commander, Field Artillery Training Center (2001-2002). Battalion Commander, 2-80th Field Artillery (1999-2001), Deputy Director, Depth and Simultaneous Attack Battle lab (1998-1999).
Fort Sill, Oklahoma - Brigade Commander, Field Artillery Training Center (2004-2006).
Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska - Chief of Staff, Space and Global Strike (2006-2008).
Baghdad, Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Chief of Staff, Directorate of Interior Affairs (2008-2009).
Chicago, Illinois with duty at FEMA Region V, Defense Coordinating Officers (2009-2011).