Last updated on November 20, 2023
By Abigail Vaughn
With Veterans Day around the corner, it’s important to honor those who ensured the safety of America. One of the best ways to honor them is to hear and listen to their stories.
Cole Shephard, a Pioneer Connections Peer Mentor, veteran, and Vol State student a part of Adult Learners and Veterans Affairs (ALVA). Shepard grew up in rural Alabama and did not desire to stay there, and in college, he studied International Relations with a focus on Asia.
“So I’m in rural Alabama, can’t do anything with that here. That combined with the fact I had some student loans I was like okay. It lets me theoretically see the world, and pay back my loans. So I entered the military service in 1987 as an enlisted soldier,” said Shepard.
By 1990 he decided with a college degree remaining enlisted “was probably not the best financial decision.”
“So I decided to become an officer. And also by that time I started looking around and decided that for what I was interested in, which was international relations, the Air Force might be the better choice. I became an Intelligence officer because again that fit what I wanted to do and in the army, Intelligence officers are far more tactical. The Air Force was more strategic looking.” By 1990 he had become an Air Force officer.
Shepard described his experience as “unbelievable.” Working under his first assignment as an intelligence officer to work on U.S. strategic command.
“Those are the nuke people, they fire off the nukes. So I’m helping track, at this time, soviet nuclear-capable aircraft and I’m also working down in the “strategic command nuclear command in post. Where you would literally wage nuclear war and we would run all these exercises.”
“From a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere to being in the nuclear command post was pretty mind-boggling.”
After attending a Chinese language school in California, Shepard spent 13 years working in Asia and did several combat deployments.
“The downside is you’re away from home a lot. Especially if you make a career out of it, in the military, it’s a family thing. I mean it’s not just me, my wife served as much as I did cause when I’m away she’s running the household. Completely by herself.”
“For me as a veteran, I always use this time to reflect back on the sacrifices that people like my family made. It takes everybody to make this happen. I volunteered to go do what I did, my wife knew what she was getting into. But you don’t really know what you’re getting into. […] So for me on Veterans Day I primarily think of my family and other families sacrifice right alongside the service member.”
“You know we have a Veterans Day parade and we parade our veterans up and down, and that’s great we absolutely should. But you never see the families in the parades. You know mommas left at home and the washing machine is busted and the toilet is overflowing and the car is broken, and daddy isn’t home. They don’t get a float in the parade. And they should,” said Shepard.
Taryea Bailey, another Pioneer Connections Peer Mentor, connected to Vol States ALVA office, as well as a student currently studying Programming for IT.
She joined the Navy in July 1999 as soon as she graduated.
“I joined through the delayed entry program. So I joined basically when I was a teen, a promise that I was going to go. And so within that year they basically trained you in navy knowledge and made sure you’re physically fit,” said Bailey.
“Then I joined the Kentucky National Guard in November 2004.”
Bailey joined the National Guard because it allowed her to be at home with her children and continue her education while still fulfilling her duties.
“I’m the oldest child of five and I had to get up out of there. I lived in a small country town in Kentucky and I wasn’t ready to go to college. So I was like I could go explore the world, decide whether I would like the military. I would also get my GI BILL benefits, so I could go to college at another date.”
Baileys’ strict household growing up prepared her for to follow discipline, “It was great, it was very challenging because I hadn’t been away from home or my family. But I gained hundreds of family members.”
She was in uniform for 11 years and encouraged her child to follow in her footsteps.
“He’s on his fourth year in the military. It’s a secure job, you know when you’re gonna get paid, how much you’re gonna get paid. Free dental, free medical, things like that then also the educational benefits.”
“To me, Veterans Day is just a reminder of what I’ve done. I love my country. […] I have a sense of pride in what I’ve done and what my brothers and sisters have done, what my child is doing. It makes us feel like people care, it’s a celebration of us and those who came before us and go after us. To me that’s one of my biggest accomplishments, serving my country. Knowing that even though I mightn’t have done anything significant to the world, it was significant to me. Because it’s something I did for the country. ”