On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Americans pause to acknowledge the service and sacrifice made by thousands of their fellow citizens.
Without a special ball cap, or a jacket or shirt with their military branch insignia, veterans are indistinguishable from their neighbors. Veterans do their jobs, blend into their surroundings, and many don’t make a point of saying they served in the military.
Some continue in public service for the good of their community in varied positions that don’t require polished brass and hand salutes.
They have a servant’s heart.
These residents, listed alphabetically, spoke about why they entered the military, and what inspires them to continue working for their fellow citizens through public service.
Lt. Walt Arlt
Bluffton Township Fire District
U.S. Army, Tank Commander, Iraq
Walt Arlt knew what he wanted to do from a young age.
“I always wanted to be a soldier. Honestly, my mother still has an elementary school project that listed what top three things do you want to be. Mine was soldier, fireman and garbage man,” said Arlt. “I have two of the three, and when I retire I may do that, too. I never wanted to be in an office. I always wanted to do the community work, to do a blue-collar job.”
He joined the Army and became a tank commander on an M1A1 Abrams tank. After 8 1/2 years in service, which included two tours in Iraq for the initial invasion and a follow-on tour, Arlt felt it was time for a change and to be around family.
“I got out and immediately applied for a local department here because this is where my mother and father retired to. Bluffton called me first so that’s where I went,” said Arlt, joining the district in 2006. “What is it about the fire service? It’s awesome. Big red trucks, lights, sirens. That’s the child answer, but the adult answer is being there to serve your community. You want to be there to help people on their hardest days.”
He serves as part of the BTFD honor guard and as part of the hiring board.
“I have the best of both worlds. I get to participate in the honors, and I get to recruit people to be part of our organization,” Arlt said. “The best part is the brotherhood, and the self-pride to know that you’re there for everybody.”
Capt. Helen Burke
Bluffton Police Department
U.S. Army Reserve, Ordnance Officer
Helen Burke’s father was in the Navy, her brother retired as an E8 from the U.S. Army and is now a civilian recruiter for the Army, but it wasn’t until she arrived on campus at Central Missouri State University that she considered the military as a career option.
“The Reserve Officer Training Corps was really big at my college, and they started talking about the benefits of ROTC. It pays for the college, you get the VA benefits, so I joined. Then I kind of fell in love with it, and progressed through the program,” said Burke. “I went through basic training as a chaplain’s assistant, but once I got through basic and got my commission, I became an ordnance officer, so anything to do with ammunition, bombs, all of that was my job.”
Burke was stationed with the 189th Ordnance Reserve Unit in St. Joseph, Mo. At the same time she was in the reserves, she was also working as an officer with the Kansas City, Mo., police department.
“I just got promoted to sergeant, I had a son who was 2 years old. The next step if I got promoted to Army captain was to take over command of a reserve unit, and I just didn’t have the time,” said Burke. So she resigned her commission after 11 years’ service.
“Nobody else in my family had been in policing. When I was in college, there was a police officer by the name of Deana Rose who worked in the Overland Park, Kans., department. She’d gone out on a traffic stop, the traffic stop went bad. The suspect ran over her and killed her,” she said. “For some reason that kind of flipped the switch for me. I started taking criminal justice courses and fell in love with policing. It’s kind of a calling.”
After 28 years in Kansas City, Burke retired six weeks ago, and began her job as the new captain with the Bluffton Police Department.
“I think I was just ready for a change. I wasn’t ready to leave law enforcement completely, but I came here in May to visit,” said Burke. “I drove all over, I talked to people, people waved, people were so nice, and I always hear that there’s something in the air. It’s either in the water or in the air here, but it just pulls people in, and when I found out there was an opening, I talked to my husband and he’s like, ‘Let’s do it.’ It’s nice to be in a place where the citizens love the police, and it’s not that way all over the place.”
Cpl. Jeff Dickson
Bluffton Police Department
U.S. Marine Corps, Military Police
Nobody in Jeff Dickson’s family had worked in law enforcement, but as a teenager, he had the opportunity to see some of the ways police officers help.
“When I was 14 or 15, I was going through some rough times, being that derelict juvenile against my family and getting in trouble. But we knew this one cop who worked in our township. He would come by and say ‘Hey, climb in the car. Let’s go have a talk.’ He’d be talking while driving around in the patrol car,” said Dickson. “I thought that was pretty good, especially him being a mentor, because I kind of looked up to him as that older brother.”
Dickson and some friends began talking about joining the military, going in under the Combat Arms Bonus, which was $2,500.
“Back in 1979 that was a lot of money. Then I started thinking I really don’t want to go in to be a grunt. I want to go in for something I want to do, which was law enforcement. I signed the delayed entry program because I failed my last year of high school,” he said.
He chose the U.S. Marine Corps working as a military police officer. At nine years, he had to reenlist or get out.
“At 13 years, if you don’t make staff sergeant, you get dismissed from the Corps. At the time, the MP field in 1984 was closed when I reenlisted, and most of the old timers from Vietnam were still staying in, so advancement for promotion was kind of like nil.”
Dickson decided to leave and join a police department. He didn’t want to lose the service time, so he joined the Army National Guard in 1991, chose the basic armory unit in his town, and was sent to Fort Dix, N.J., for tanker school.
“As soon as I got out of tanker school, that’s when Desert Storm came up and they said, ‘Guess what? You guys are on standby.’ I got out of the Marines thinking, OK, I’m not going to see any war, and now it’s like I might. I guess things happen for a reason.”
Dickson had applications into the Honolulu, Santa Ana and Los Angeles police departments as well as the Los Angeles and San Diego sheriff’s departments. Turning down the offer in Hawaii, he was waiting for other calls when he was involved in a bad motorcycle accident that laid him up. After healing at his sister’s home in New Jersey, he worked on a multi-million-dollar security system for a major pharmaceutical company.
“I did that for about four years, and when my parents retired down here, they said ‘Why don’t you come down here and work for the sheriff’s department? They’ve got like 52 openings.’ I was like OK. I moved down here, and never looked back. I worked for the sheriff’s department for almost 10 years and then switched to Bluffton. That was December 2005. When I got to Bluffton there were only about 14 of us.”
Zach Green, USMC
Don Ryan Center for Innovation, HEROES program director
U.S. Marine Corps, Infantry
Zach Green chose to enter the U.S. Marine Corps Marines because he knew it was the toughest.
“I was a very young man, always dreamed of being in the Marines. No one in my family was in the military and I was drawn to the dress blues,” Green said. “I knew that if I wanted to do it, I wanted to do the toughest one out there. It really sent me on a life trajectory. My life would be very different right now if I had not done that.”
Green enlisted in 1991 and spent eight years in the Corps in the infantry, handling fire direction duties with 81mm mortars. He was stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in Beaufort, Marine Corps bases Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms in California.
Green said he had a lot of “rough edges which the Marine Corps fixed.”
“The biggest thing I learned in the Marines is (that) adversity shapes you and makes you grow. We all have a crucible in our lives, and we go to the edge. And if you don’t have that warrior spirit, you’re either going to be stronger for that or it’s going to crush you,” he said. “The Marines taught me to grow. Reset and start over.”
Despite working as a firefighter for 15 years, plus eight years in the Corps, Green said there nothing was tougher than starting his own business.
“My crucible was my business. I almost went bankrupt, but I used my experience in the military to turn my business around. I went from nearly bankrupt to a $30 million business,” he said. “I knew I had to change things and make this thing work.”
One of the results of turning his business around was analyzing a whole series of crucibles experienced by warriors such as Navy SEALS, Marines, members of the CIA and FBI, and turning those stories into a book.
“ ‘Warrior Entrepreneur: Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom’ analyzes how you grow from your own crucibles,” he said. As he prepared to launch his book he heard of the HEROES job at the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, an economic development department for the Town of Bluffton. HEROES is a business program that supports first responders and the military who innovate.
“The HEROES mission was the same thing as my book. So now I have the opportunity to work with first responders, veterans and the town, and use my adversity to help them grow,” said Green. “It’s a special thing, because I started here at 18 at Parris Island as a kid and now, at 48, I am here 8 miles from Parris Island and I have a chance to give back everything they taught me by working with the town.”
Corrine Greer, USMC
Bluffton High School English teacher
U.S. Marine Corps, Combat correspondent, legal officer, General Staff secretary
“I graduated high school in 1990 and spent almost a year floundering,” said Corrine Greer. “I was dissatisfied with the path I was creating for myself, and I wanted to serve my country. I chose the Marines because I wanted a challenge. I was not making the best decisions getting out of high school. I learned in the Marines that our own expectations for ourselves are all in our head.”
Greer spent a total of 12 years in the Marines, half enlisted and the other half as an officer. When she was accepted into the Naval Enlisted Scientific Education Program, she was assigned to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., to finish her bachelor’s degree. She went from being a combat correspondent with a broadcasting tour at the Armed Forces Network station in Okinawa, Japan, to legal officer, equal opportunity officer and staff secretary in the general’s office at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Her bachelor’s degree was an English major with an emphasis on journalism and a minor in communications. When she decided to teach and left the Marines, she began working on her master’s for cross cultural teaching at National University, completing everything but the teaching practicum.
She left California and moved to this area in 2006 when her then-future husband was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. She has taught at Hilton Head High School, Bluffton High School, McCracken Middle School, Thomas Heyward Academy and has spent the past four years again at Bluffton High School.
“One of the things I like the best about teaching is every day is different. I scored very high on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and I tell people who are thinking about going into the military that they need work hard to get high scores so they have lots of options available to them for career paths,” said Greer. “It takes me by surprise sometimes when I hear students who say they’re not worried about doing well in school because they’re just going into the military.”
Scott Marshall, USAF
Beaufort County Director of Human Resources
U.S. Air Force, Personnel Officer
In 1985 at age 18, Scott Marshall joined the U.S. Air Force because none of the other branches appealed to him.
“I had a lot of jobs. I enlisted after high school and after I’d been in for almost 5 years, the Air Force granted me a scholarship to finish my undergraduate degree in 1993,” he said. “I had a double major in psychology and political science, and I was a second lieutenant. I became a personnel officer, and after 23 years I retired as a major.”
Not everyone is cut out to go to college, at least not right away. Marshall was one of those individuals.
“I didn’t think I was ready to sit down in a classroom in college. I knew I wanted to go at some point, but I knew I could gain some skills, have some good experiences, and put some worthwhile activities under my belt,” he said, “but ironically I started going to school as soon as I could in the Air Force, going to night school.”
Marshall said he gained a different perspective on the world from than the one in which he grew up.
“I learned to appreciate people in different ways. I guess it was just my exposure to a new way of thinking, and it opened my eyes to the world. I found a lot of great opportunities that I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else,” said Marshall.
While stationed in the Tidewater area of Virginia, Marshall took terminal leave, using up vacation days not taken, and started applying for jobs.
“One of the many jobs I applied for was director of voter registration here in Beaufort County because my wife’s family lived down here, and that was the connection,” he said. “I was also hired by Booz Allen Hamilton right after I retired, so I worked a few months for them before I got a call from the county in June 2009.”
After a successful interview, he and his family moved down to Beaufort County, serving also as Bluffton’s assistant town manager before becoming the county’s director of human resources. He’s a proponent of public service.
“It’s cliché but when you’re in the military you kind of gain a passion for public service, and it was an opportunity to apply the real world leadership lessons that the military provided me,” said Marshall. “Public service gets in your blood. The most satisfying thing about that is just knowing that I’m exercising my ability to give back to the community in some way.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.