Thank you, veterans!
Government employees are often called public servants. And public service might have no higher calling than serving in the military. Among City employees, almost one in 12 has served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Among them are:
- Fleet Services mechanic Travis Butler, in the U.S. Air Force from 2002-2008, followed by six years in the Air Force Reserve and now in the Air National Guard
- Solid Waste in-house recycling collector Barney Huddleston, who served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1979
- Schiele Museum curator of anthropology Dr. Alan May, in the U.S. Air Force from 1968 to 1972
- Fire engineer Latanya White, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995
Travis Butler was a fuels technician based in Nevada, and he served in Iraq, United Arab Emirates and Kyrgyzstan. He’s now in the Air National Guard
and, after Hurricane Florence, he was deployed to Kinston, North Carolina, to assist with shipping water and food to storm-battered regions near the coast.
The Jonesboro, Tennessee, native says he wasn’t ready to go to college when he finished high school. He chose the military, influenced by his father and uncle who had served in the Army and a grandfather who had been in the Navy.
“You grow up fast,” Butler says of his time in uniform. “You have to learn to handle life on your own.” As a fuels technician, he delivered fuel to aircraft, sampled fuels and performed maintenance on fuel trucks. Butler says his three tours in the Middle East taught him to “appreciate things more, especially freedom.”
Butler and his wife met while he was on active duty. After leaving the Air Force, they chose to move to Charlotte because of friends and job opportunities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business with the GI Bill.
Barney Huddleston says he didn’t plan to make a 22-year career out of serving in the Army, “but that’s how it worked out.” He grew up in York, South Carolina, and says he saw the military as his best option after graduating from high school. He served stateside as a tank commander and later in his military career, he trained younger soldiers how to operate a tank and improve their skills at the firing range.
“More disciplined” is how Huddleston describes the military’s impact on him, adding that one of his pet peeves is people who are not on time. Huddleston now works part time for the City where colleagues often see him collecting recyclables from offices and City buildings.
If it hadn’t been for the Vietnam War, Alan May might have become a pharmacist. The Texas native was majoring in pre-pharmacy when he decided to leave college in 1968 and join the Air Force. He chose to enlist rather than wonder if and when he might be drafted. May served as an electronic technician, working with the Air Force’s communication systems. His one year in Vietnam changed his life.
May says his time in Southeast Asia sparked his interest in anthropology, which is the study of human societies and their cultures. He was especially influenced by his time with an ethnic group in Vietnam called the Montagnards or Hmong. May says seeing how the war adversely affected the Montagnards’ daily lives was a “heavy influence” on his decision to become an anthropologist. After leaving the military, May went back to college, eventually getting his Ph.D.
“My military experience was transformational,” May says. “I already had an idea what I wanted to do. But I didn’t know that my experience in the military helped me to organize and actualize the goals necessary.”
Latanya White moved around a lot as a child because her mother was in the U.S. Army. After graduating from high school in Louisiana, White was concerned about the cost of college, so she enlisted in the Marines. She was a motor transport noncommissioned officer, overseeing preventive maintenance on vehicles, teaching classes and conducting employee evaluations. Tours of duty took her to Japan and Cuba.
White says she learned “discipline, team work and pride” in the military. After the Marines, she was drawn to jobs that served others, such as juvenile services, security officer and getting her EMT certification. Based on a friend’s recommendation, she applied for the Gastonia Fire Department 17 years ago and got the job. Recently, she married another military veteran.
2018 marks 100 years since Armistice Day, when the peace treaty ending World War I was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The original holiday honored World War I veterans and was dedicated to the cause of world peace. In 1954, Congress approved legislation changing the holiday's name to Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars. May says “it’s a personal thing” on how Americans should honor veterans. He chooses to personally thank any service member in uniform that he sees.
All four say they don’t think of themselves on Veterans Day. Huddleston says he thinks about previous veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam and “didn’t get much respect.” White says her focus “has always been on others” and not on herself. To Butler, Veterans Day is “more about those who served before us and paved the way.” May says he thinks about veterans who served before him, alongside him and those who are serving now.
“I am proud to be an American,” Huddleston says. “Every American should be proud. And if they had to live somewhere else, they would quickly appreciate the freedoms that we have.”
See the list of current City of Gastonia employees who are military veterans.