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NEWS | Nov. 4, 2013

The man behind the desk: Army vet amasses 50 years of service

By Staff Sgt. Wesley Farnsworth 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The clang of iron weights and squeaks of basketball shoes on the court echoed through the entrance of McClellan Fitness Center, where an unassuming man in a tan polo shirt greeted gym patrons.

They shuffled by, scanning their identification cards and offering hasty "good mornings," oblivious to the man behind the desk.

Unknown to a casual passerby, John Carter, a McClellan Fitness Center employee, has served his country through 30 years of military service and 20 years in civil service. What started as a way to help his family turned into a lifetime of dedicated service to his country.

Carter was raised from a young age to value and help his family, whether around the house or working at a relative's dry cleaning business.
 
In 1948, Carter graduated high school and left for college on a football scholarship, which was the only way he could have afforded to go because of his family's financial situation, he said.

While in high school, Carter met the age requirement to register for the military draft, but because of his student status, he would not be drafted into the military unless in the case of a national emergency or war.

On June 25, 1950, two years after graduating high school, the Korean War began, and later that same month, Carter received a letter that would change his life forever.

"After finishing football practice, I went to the school mail room and the lady said, 'Carter, I've got a letter here for you from the government,'" Carter said. "I thought, 'Oh Lord,' because I knew exactly what it was."

Carter had received notice that he was to be drafted into the U.S. Army.

"I knew I was going to end up on the battlefield, and that's exactly what happened," Carter said.

In October 1950, he attended basic military training at Fort Benning, Ga., and attended career-specific training for working with tanks at what is now Fort Polk, La., before being sent to Korea, where he did two tours with B Company, 2nd Infantry Division, 72nd Tank Battalion.

Among the letters Carter received from home while in Korea, one changed his life's path.

"My mother wrote me to say my sisters wanted to attend college, but she couldn't afford to send them," Carter said. "I chose to reenlist to help her pay for it."

Knowing neither sister had a scholarship to rely on, Carter sent his entire re-enlistment bonus back home to help cover expenses.

"Had my mother not written me, I would have gotten out of the Army and went back to school on my scholarship," Carter said. "Instead I ended up staying in and eventually retiring."

Carter rose through the rank and within his first few years, had been promoted to sergeant first class.

"I was eligible to separate again, but I knew my mother would not be able to continue sending my sisters to school," Carter said. "Family has always been important to me, so I knew I had to continue helping."

In 1966, Carter, then a senior noncommissioned officer, received orders to attend the U.S. Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis. After finishing school, Carter was to go to Vietnam, but instead ended up returning to Korea after his orders were changed.

This wouldn't be the last time Carter would see Fort Eustis, however. After two tours in Vietnam, Carter returned to Fort Eustis in 1972, where he served as the 11th Battalion noncommissioned officer in charge.

After a tour in Germany, Carter again returned to Fort Eustis in 1980, where he retired as a sergeant major.

Although his active-duty career had ended, Carter knew he wasn't done with the Army. He still wanted to be a part of the military environment, even during his retirement.

While Carter was in Germany, his friend, who managed the bowling alley at Fort Eustis, wrote to ask if he was interested in working for him after he retired.

"I was just as much an avid bowler then as I am today," Carter said. "I told him I was interested, and he told me to come see him when I got back from Germany."

After three years as a sales clerk, Carter was promoted to assistant manager and later took over as general manager. Seventeen years after starting at the bowling alley, Carter retired from his second career.

A few years into his second retirement, Carter wanted to pursue yet another job in the Army, and in November 2007, he returned to Fort Eustis.

Carter took a position at the McClellan Fitness Center to get back to what he loves -- the Army.

"I think my wife was happy that I was going back to work again," Carter said.

Through his many years of military and civilian service, Carter's love for the military has never faded. In retirement, he enjoys providing advice to Service members.

"I always tell people that they have to do what's best for them and to not let others make their mind up for them. I chose to stay in the military because it was what was best for me at the time," Carter said.  "The military isn't for everyone, but if it's something you want to do, then go for it."

From the day he started his first job working in the family business to the day was drafted into the military, and even still today, everything Carter does is for his family -- a desire that has evolved into a lifetime of service. Today, Carter can still be found behind the counter at the fitness center, doing what he loves -- working with the Soldiers of Fort Eustis and serving his country.