Spring 2019 Veterans' Interviews
The students in Dr. Lauren Rule Maxwell’s Spring 2019 undergraduate and graduate Advanced Composition classes conducted oral history interviews with a diverse group of U.S. veterans to learn about their military experiences. In addition to conducting interviews, the students incorporated the veterans’ stories into a range of writing exercises, including abstracts and feature articles, which appear with the interviews online.
Click on the hyperlinked headings below to see video recordings of the interviews, which also will be archived in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. By capturing these histories, it is our hope that the interviews will do justice to the veterans’ stories while paying homage to their legacy and the principled leadership they inspire.
Many people deserve thanks for helping make this project a reality. In particular, we’d like to thank Lawrence Galasso in Multimedia Services; Morgan Spencer in External Affairs; Keith Free and Tiffany Silverman from Citadel Fine Arts; and the staff of The Daniel Library.
- Mary Beth Aiello by Sae-Eun Lee
- Brian Allen by Clark Roberts
- Juan Campana by Jose Cajar
- David A. Culler by Cody Sims
- William Alexander Faulconer by Jennifer Jump
- Orlando J. Garcia by Andrew W. Lipke
- William K. Herndon by Sumerlyn Carruthers
- Howard Rivers Jacobs, Jr., by Elijah Melendez
- Richard Keating by Natalie Rodgers
- William P. Kozak, Jr. by Dana Morales Kozak
- Christopher F. Polites by Trent W. Martindale
- Wouter F. Sijtsma by Alexandra Hammeran
- Dennis Rockwell Smith by Mary Kroeger
- Ashley Towers by Olivia Jane Crawford
- Mark C. Vowels II by Zachary T. Tripp
- General Glenn Michael Walters by David Wratislaw, Jr.
- Andrew Yagle by Mills Gray Hinson
Retired Master Sergeant Mary Beth Aiello of the New York Air National Guard was born on November 15, 1978, in Providence, Rhode Island. With no one else in her family having a military background, she was the first in her family both to join the military and to graduate from college. Nineteen-year-old Mary Beth Aiello was looking at the newspaper and found an ad that said, “Join the Air National Guard with a 6-year enlistment commitment and receive pay for tuition cost in any city or state college.” The next thing she knew she had sworn in with no hesitation and was on her way to basic training in San Antonio, Texas. She had found her place in the New York Air National Guard.
She quickly moved up ranks, held positions within higher leadership roles, and was quick to volunteer with all kinds of projects, including serving in the aftermath of 9/11. Through her persistence and vigilance, she made her ranks up to Master Sergeant. In this interview, Master Sergeant Aiello talks about her story that lead up to her joining the Air National Guard and how that had molded her into the successful woman she is today. She’s achieved her Bachelor of Art at the State University of New York at New Paltz in journalism and has recently completed her Master's in Project Management at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. From all of her achievements in her military and civilian careers, she is now working at Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC, previously known as Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command SPAWAR) as an Administrative Specialist, still serving her country.
Sergeant Brian Allen is a veteran of active duty service in the Marine Corps. A native of Roanoke, Virginia, he had originally hoped to attend the prestigious Virginia Military Institute, located a short distance from his home. But he did not attend “The Institute,” as Virginians know it, deciding instead to enlist in the Marine Corps upon graduating from high school. Mr. Allen served on active duty from January of 2013 to January of 2017. His subsequent career is typical of those who have joined the military in the latter stages of the War on Terror. Hearing Mr. Allen’s story provides valuable insight into what life is like for the average Marine while simultaneously telling a story of individual adventure and achievement.
After completing training, Mr. Allen arrived at his first duty station in Beaufort, South Carolina. He was disappointed to learn that the unit had returned from Afghanistan the day prior and thus would not be redeploying in the near future. Mr. Allen’s career thus entailed stateside service with no opportunities to serve in combat. Despite lacking the combat he had hoped for, Mr. Allen made the best of his enlistment. His travels within the U.S. have taken him to a variety of locations, including California, Arizona, and the Carolinas, where he has done everything from overseeing generator systems to operating weaponry. After completing his term on active duty, he chose to transfer to an infantry unit in the Marine Corps Reserves in order to begin a life with Ashley, his fiancée. Mr. Allen still applies the Marine Corps’ mentality of discipline to his civilian life, and he feels better prepared for the future because of it.
Juan Campana is a Marine Corps veteran who served as a Combat Engineer. Inspired to enlist after the attack on the U. S. Trade center on September 11, 2001, he is the kind of person who acts when his country needs him to. Shortly after training, he deployed to Afghanistan, where he became close with other service members and also witnessed some of their deaths. The dark reality of combat is something he learned to confront as a result of loss. After being injured, Juan retired from the Marine Corps and unsure of what he would do next.
Juan, a service member in every capacity, sought out a career path that would relate back to his experiences in the Marine Corps. He worked for the sheriff’s department and as a contractor for State Department. Learning to integrate back into civilian life was something as difficult for Juan as it has been for men and women everywhere transitioning from the military. Finding his place was not easy, but through hard work, he has found a home at The Citadel, where he has led the effort to organize veterans and provide support for their lives after service.
If there has ever been a man who was born to fly helicopters, it has to be David Culler. David, currently a flight instructor for the AH-64 Apache in Fort Rucker, Alabama, works as a civilian for the Army Department. In this interview, he recounts his 25-year-long career in the Army and describes the incredible journey that got him to where he is today, focusing fondly on the men he served with in the Army.
As a favor to his father after graduation from high school in 1986, David spoke with an Army recruiter in Winston Salem, North Carolina. At the age of 17, David ultimately enlisted and followed in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather. This decision sparked the beginning of David’s impressive career in the Army, which started with his working as a combat medic in the 11th Special Forces Group after his completion of basic training and jump school. In 1989, at the age of 20, after deciding to attend Warrant Officer Flight School, David was selected to be a pilot for the AH-1 Cobra.
He spent the rest of his career flying helicopters—flying in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Desert Shield, Bosnia, Albania, and finally, Afghanistan. He even spent some time in Korea, Germany, and Egypt. In this interview, David goes into great detail when describing his immense career, but it isn’t about him: His focus is on those who served with him and inspired him along the way.
Born June 17, 1987 in Charlottesville, Virginia, William Alexander “Alex” Faulconer knew he always wanted to be in the military. What he didn’t know was how important the strong bond of camaraderie that he would find during his eight years of service would be to him. Alex never forgot 9/11, seeing the Twin Towers go down in his math class. In the interview, he says that “every generation has a call to service,” and that was definitely it for him. So, he signed up as an 11 X-Ray, or infantryman, and reluctantly changed later to 11 Charlie, where he served as a mortar man providing indirect fire support for the infantry. He rose to Staff Sergeant (E-6) and received a Bronze Star in 2013 for meritorious achievement.
Completing two very different tours in Afghanistan, Alex shares how he found “morale in shared hardship,” how he used part of Osama Bin Laden’s compound, and why four-leaf clovers hold personal meaning. He speaks highly of the bonds he formed with his January 2007 boot camp bunkmate, the members of 5-2’s “Strike, Destroy” family, and the men he led and trained as an NCO. In our interview, Alex talks about why achieving sergeant meant so much to him, and why he will never take running water for granted again.
Lieutenant Garcia’s mission in life is to make the best of every situation and, in doing so, to embrace all opportunities available to him. Born in Puerto Rico in 1971, Orlando Garcia joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school, enlisting for what would be thirteen years. In that time, he served the Navy as a jet engine mechanic, working at least ten hours per day from early morning to late afternoon. His daily duties involved jet engine maintenance and overall flight readiness—he was the man who made sure the Navy’s aircraft was ready for the next mission. During that period, he was stationed in Florida and Italy and was also deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. He also met his wife, Jisela, in Puerto Rico while home on leave.
After ten years of service, Orlando Garcia hit the ten-year mark, which is a period of transition for many enlisted soldiers. Because of his close contact with officers, he began to envision himself in their role and found he liked the picture. So, instead of leaving, he decided to pursue the officer route. In order to accomplish his goal, he went to night classes and essentially spent every free moment of his time working towards his degree. While going through college, his wife gave him two beautiful daughters, Jinsely and Jessica, and then his third beautiful daughter, Samantha, was born while he was still in flight school. Lieutenant Garcia acknowledges that he owes a lot to his wife for her efforts in raising the children while he was pursuing his military career.
He continued to serve nearly ten more years in campaigns such as Operation Provide Comfort, Operation Provide Promise, Operation Southern Watch, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in service, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and a Navy Unit Commendation. Retiring in September of 2012 after nearly 23 years in the service, Lieutenant Garcia now works as the second battalion TAC officer for Foxtrot Company at The Citadel, which was his final post of official duty. Here Lieutenant Garcia mentors cadets, ensuring they make the most of their opportunities.
William “Buddy” Herndon was born on March 29, 1949, in Greensboro, North Carolina. At just 19 years old, Buddy chose to enlist rather than be drafted into the Army in the midst of the Vietnam War. After enduring a scorching basic training at Fort Bragg, Buddy shipped out to Fort Lee, Virginia, for Advanced Individual Training. Upon completion of his training, he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, at Gray Army Airfield where he was assigned to an attack helicopter unit. Rather than being assigned to the jungles of Northern Vietnam, Buddy was deployed to the northern region of South Vietnam between the mountains and ocean.
Every morning for one year, Buddy woke up, crossed another day off his calendar he kept stowed under his sleeping bag, and prayed the mail chopper would bring a letter from his pregnant wife back in the States. Returning home to war protests, he attended North Carolina State University and tried his best to put the past behind him, move forward, and at the age of 26, grow in Christ.
Buddy managed to use his experiences in Vietnam to shape his outlook on life for the better. “Joy is 100% internal,” he explains in the interview, “and no matter what your circumstances are, you can experience that joy that comes from God.” From dud RPGs landing just feet away to watching Clint Eastwood movies in the jungle, Buddy’s tale is one of determination, survival, and rebirth as a man of truly astounding Christian faith.
Born in September of 1928 in Charleston, South Carolina, and raised a mile away from The Citadel, Howard Rivers Jacobs, Jr. remembers an idyllic life before the Lowcountry modernized. After graduating from The Citadel in 1949 and commissioning into the United States Army as an Infantry Officer, he served with of the occupation forces in Japan. Five months later, with little useful equipment and badly outnumbered, Rivers’s youthful innocence was shattered. But as his friends—who talk about him with smiles on their faces—will attest, his sense of humor survived.
This interview showcases Rivers’s infectious enthusiasm for life. He discusses becoming the youngest Major in the United States Army, reluctantly resigning his commission to continue his photo-development business, and writing his private memoirs with his song to work out his war-demons. Although the 90-year-old man walks slowly now, he still carries a mischievous twinkle in his eye and peace from his faith in God.
After graduating from The Citadel with a B.A. in English in 1981 and earning his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 12 years later, Dr. Richard Keating has had a fascinating journey that has brought him full circle from the United States Air Force to academia. In this interview, Dr. Keating discusses some highlights of his military career, such as serving in the Air Force during the height of the Cold War in a silo that held nuclear weapons. He also talks about his love for being in the classroom. After serving for several years and monitoring high-grade explosives, Dr. Keating went on to teach at the U.S. Air Force Academy for nearly 10 years. It is no wonder that he fit in so well here on The Citadel campus—as an alumnus and professor, he certainly knows how to mentor cadets.
After teaching at the Air Force Academy, Dr. Keating went on to become a leading educator and trainer for the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base. He finished that portion of his career in 2001, wrapping up his military service. Since then, Dr. Keating has continued to lead and teach. He served as the Dean of New England College for eight years, worked as the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Western New England University, and has taught classes here at The Citadel and at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Dr. Keating attributes much of his success to his family and his love of his career; in this interview, one can see his passion for learning and sharing knowledge. When asked to give advice to someone joining the military, Dr. Keating explained that the key was staying humble and happy, two qualities he himself certainly embodies.
Read the Feature Article | Watch the Interview
In this interview, William P. Kozak discusses his life from his early days to his enlistment in the U.S. Navy to life back in the civilian world. After beginning with his childhood and early family life, he describes his favorite boyhood experiences and his heroes growing up. He explains his decision to enlist, what he was thinking at the time, and what he thought he would gain from his enlistment. Mr. Kozak then provides a brief overview of his first year in the Navy, consisting of his thirteen-week boot camp, his first A-school, and his first ship.
As Mr. Kozak describes his life as a Commissaryman, he reveals the joy he felt in his accomplishments in the mess hall. He also gives an account of his only experience with combat. He’d hoped he would never see combat, especially since he enlisted into the Navy and was a Commissaryman. Looking back on his time in service, he has a hard time separating the good and bad memories; determining the positive from the negative is difficult, so he tries to focus only on the now.
After discussing his duty stations, Mr. Kozak reflects on his marriage and children. He is proud he had a good marriage. Coming home from deployments, he always knew he was coming back to a stable, welcome home. He did not have to worry about managing the household because his wife took care of that for him; his job was to come home and keep being a husband and father. He spoke in great detail about his time in Italy with his family and spoke fondly of his oldest son learning Italian before he learned English.
One aspect of his service that Mr. Kozak discusses at length is his transition from the military back to civilian life. He recounts the different challenges involved with adjusting to civilian life, the opportunities to spend time with his family, and his struggle with managing civilian employees. He characterizes this transition as very difficult for his generation, which lacked training and assistance to bridge the gap between military life and the civilian world. This interview describes his life in both realms and the man he is now: veteran, husband, father, and grandfather.
As a boy in Lexington, Kentucky, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Polites dreamed of attending West Point and joining the military. When he visited the academy, however, he realized it was not the place he hoped for. Fortunately, one of his best friends had told him about The Citadel. Polites fell in love with the school and matriculated in the fall of 1988 with the prestigious Star of the West scholarship. At The Citadel, LTC Polites excelled as a cadet and student, and he commissioned in the U.S. Army as a Military Intelligence officer. He credits his diverse course load and the countless hours he spent reading with preparing him for this career.
In the early years of his service, LTC Polites served in some very prestigious units, such as the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain Division. After this time, LTC Polites worked as an instructor at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School. He then went on to become a Civil Affairs officer, which was one of the most enjoyable periods of his career. He served in various roles in the 96th and 97th Civil Affairs Battalions (Airborne), and 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), U.S. Army Special Operations Command. During his career, he had tours around the world in places such as Panama, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.
After his retirement, LTC Polites wanted a trade in which he could create on a daily basis things that were tangible and useful, so he completed horseshoeing school. Although he enjoyed his new career, LTC Polites noticed a job opening at his alma mater for a TAC officer, and he decided to apply. A year later, he was hired as Sierra Company TAC officer. LTC Polities now enjoys mentoring the young people of The Citadel, work he finds very challenging, but rewarding.
Captain Wouter Sijtsma is a member of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. He is from the city of Leeuwarden, in the Netherlands’ province of Friesland. Growing up, Captain Sijtsma was surrounded by culture, music, and laughter, as well as the roar of a F-104 Starfighter from the local Air Force base. It was while walking down the street as a boy that he spotted a column of soldiers marching missiles into the base and decided that he wanted to join the military. He entered the Royal Netherlands Military as a communications specialist in 1979 and used his linguistic skills for intelligence gathering. From there, he went to the 601 Field Artillery Detachment, U.S. Army, where he first worked with nuclear missiles.
Later, Captain Sijtsma worked with Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Warfare (CBRN). In EOD, Captain Sijtsma would collect and disarm the undetonated bombs from WWII that could be discovered throughout the country. With CBRN, Captain Sijtsma helped transport citizens harmed by Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons into the Netherlands for treatment and study. In 2005, Captain Sijtsma received his master’s degree in business from the University of Liverpool and later added a paralegal degree from the University of South Carolina. He currently works as a TAC (training, advising, coaching) Officer at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, using his many years of leadership experience to benefit Citadel cadets.
Dennis Smith was born on October 1, 1942, to Rockwell and Ellen Smith. He spent his childhood in Plymouth, Michigan, attending school and demonstrating his athletic ability in a variety of sports. From a young age, Mr. Smith carried a passion for enlisting in the military and serving his country, so when it was time for Mr. Smith to decide which branch of the military he wanted to enlist in, it was an easy decision—he knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by serving in the U.S. Army.
After completing his first year of college at The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, he knew it was the right time to serve his country. He was sent to basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, before spending 32 months in Kitzingen, Germany, serving in the Headquarters A 703rd Maintenance Battalion United States Army Europe (USAREUR) 3rd Infantry Division. Upon returning to Michigan, Mr. Smith re-enrolled in The Center for Creative Studies. After a year and a half, he also enrolled at The University of Michigan Dearborn night school and met his wife, Jean Smith. They have been married 50 years and have two children, four grandchildren, and a great grandchild on the way.
Mr. Smith said he owes much of his work ethic, ability to work well with others, excellent negotiation, and relationship-building skills that paved the way for his success to his military experience. Mr. Smith has led a life of no regrets and fondly states that the people he met along the way are among the greatest treasures in his life.
Sergeant Ashley Eileen Towers of Glens Falls, New York, began her military career at the age of 22 when she decided on impulse to join the Army National Guard’s Military Police. All it took was a single meeting with the National Guard for Towers to find her place and purpose within the military. During her eight years of service, Towers played a role in numerous missions and operations. From her early deployment to Iraq shortly after enlisting to her voluntary deployment to Guantanamo Bay to coming back home to New York to aid in rescue efforts in the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, Sergeant Towers has had her fair share of military experience in a variety of settings. Her courageous and honorable service efforts have not gone unnoticed—she has received numerous awards for her contributions in service, including the prestigious Senior Listed Person of the Quarter Award for her services in Guantanamo Bay.
Sergeant Towers’s outlook on her experience in the military serves as a snapshot into the mind of a soldier—an uncharted territory for many civilians. Her recollections of specific experiences, such as the time a hand-thrown explosive hit the MRAP she was driving, reveal soldiers’ instinctive sense of duty and their reflexive use of training. Sergeant Towers is a personification of bravery and courageousness. Modest and humble about her accomplishments and contributions, Sergeant Towers lets her story speak for itself.
Staff Sergeant Mark C. Vowels II was born in Tampa, Florida, and was raised in Greenville, South Carolina. In the hopes of becoming like the superheroes he idolized as a child, he joined the United States Marine Corps. After enlisting in the Marines in 2011, Staff Sergeant Vowels graduated from Boot Camp as the honor grad, which guaranteed a meritorious promotion to Private First Class. He then went on Marine Combat Training (MCT) at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, to be trained as a Radio Operator. Upon Finishing his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) School, Staff Sergeant Vowels was attached to 1st Battalion 11th Marines in 29 Palms, California. While Stationed at 29 Palms, he and his platoon spent a lot of time in the field doing call for fire missions. These call for fire missions would consist of he and his team loading up on military aircraft, and at a moment’s notice and being dropped at a new location to set up communications and prepare for fire missions. While attached to this battalion, Staff Sergeant Vowels deployed on the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which was a forward response MEU acting as America's Ambassadors in the Pacific. On this MEU, he trained with the Marines of the Philippines and earned another meritorious promotion to Sergeant upon his return from Deployment.
After his meritorious promotion to Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Vowels became the Communications Chief for 1st Battalion 11th Marines before leaving to report to Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island to be a drill instructor in the same Battalion and Company that he was a recruit in—1st Battalion, Alpha Company. Staff Sergeant Vowels spent one year as a drill instructor before getting injured while on duty. During his time off because of injury, he was able to apply to become a part of the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP) and, upon acceptance to this program, went to Marines Officer Candidate School before reporting to The Citadel as a college student. Staff Sergeant Vowels is set to commission in May of 2020. He is currently living in Charleston as a student with his beloved wife Amyjoy and their two children.
General Glenn Michael Walters was born in 1957 in Warrington, Virginia. His childhood was spent overseas until high school. Then he entered The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, graduating in 1979 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. From there, he became a platoon commander and, in 1981, and a Naval aviator.
General Walters led a distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps, where he tested the Osprey and trained with the AH-1T Super Cobra attack helicopter. He was deployed to Okinawa, Korea, and the Persian Gulf as a part of Operation Earnest Will and to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. He has since retired and has returned to his alma mater to become the 20th President of The Citadel.
During General Walters’s time in the United States Marine Corps, he held many positions, including Assistant Commandant, the second in command. Through this position, he has had many unique experiences involving teaching, training, and leading, and he applies this experience to the principled leadership education of future leaders here at The Citadel.
United States Marine Corps Retired Sergeant Major Andrew Yagle’s life and career serve as a testament as to what can happen when a natural-born Marine embraces the military lifestyle, seeking to leave the organization and his fellow man better than he found them.
Sergeant Major Yagle grew up in Miami, Florida. He received a Catholic education and played sports throughout his childhood. As a kid, he always admired and respected the Marine Corps, and he knew that he wanted to be a Marine from as early as his sophomore year of high school. Whether it was from books he read, advertisements he would see, or simply the things he would hear, Sergeant Major Yagle knew he wanted to serve his country, and he knew he wanted to do so as United States Marine.
Sergeant Major Yagle enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in July of 1979 and went to Recruit Training on Parris Island, South Carolina. Throughout his time at boot camp, Sergeant Major Yagle excelled, and was eventually nominated as his platoon’s Honor Man. After graduating from boot camp, Sergeant Major Yagle served as a Motor Vehicle Operator and was qualified to drive almost every form of rolling stock the Marine Corps use in missions; he served in his original Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of Motor Transport throughout most of his career.
Because Sergeant Major Yagle was promoted very quickly, he became a Sergeant in under three years. Along with working in Motor Transport, Sergeant Major Yagle also served as a Drill Instructor at Parris Island, where he trained not only the next generation of Marines, but also future Drill Instructors. According to him, this was a great privilege and one of the most fulfilling things he did throughout his career in the Marine Corps. Eventually, Sergeant Major Yagle was promoted to First Sergeant. When this occurred, he essentially opened himself to the needs of the Marine Corps. He continued to lead in Motor Transport, stepped into higher leadership positions as a Drill Instructor, and also spent a considerable amount of time tethered to an infantry unit, where he led more tactical and operational focused enlisted personnel. Throughout his career, he saw several deployments to locations such as Okinawa, the Mediterranean, and The Gulf.
In addition to discussing his career, Sergeant Major Yagle shares more personal details about his career and life in this interview. He discusses several key individuals who inspired him as a Marine, shares the importance of his family, recounts his best and worst days as a Marine, and explains why he chose to never become an officer. From this interview, one can trace the path Sergeant Major Yagle took to become the outstanding Marine, leader, and man that he is today while learning how he continues to positively affect both individuals and society as a whole.