A 20-year veteran shares his experiences in traveling the world in the military, but can’t wait to come home.

Joshua Wilson, 43, of Connelly Springs, enlisted in the U.S. Army in Oct. 1995, at age 19, three months after graduation.

“I joined the Army because I wanted to be a soldier and serve my country in a combat role,” Wilson said.

After enlisting, Wilson was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for basic training and advanced individual training, then transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, for Army Airborne School. After completing Airborne School, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as a fire support specialist and paratrooper. In 1997, he received orders to go to Camp Hovey, South Korea, as a fire support specialist in heavy infantry until he concluded his Army service in Sept. 1998. He received an Army Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters for his service.

“This represents three medals,” Wilson said. “One for performance as a hometown recruiter, one for performance in an exercise/demonstration at Fort Bragg for the Secretary of Defense and the last one to recognize three years of service.”

After serving in the Army, Wilson said he wanted to enlist in the Air Force.

“At the time, the Air Force would not accept prior service combat jobs,” Wilson said. “I tried every year, but was always denied. When the Sept. 11 attacks happened in 2001, I walked out of my (civilian) job and went to the Army recruiters with plans to reenlist. I opened the door to the Army recruiter’s office, and an Air Force recruiter walked out next door and recognized me. He told me the Air Force just opened the door for prior combat and I immediately enlisted.”

After Wilson enlisted in the Air Force as a fire protection apprentice (firefighter), he was sent to Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, for firefighter training in April 2002. He was then assigned to Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina, as his first duty station, and promoted to staff sergeant in October 2003. In 2005, he received orders to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, where he served in his first leadership position in fire service. In 2006, Wilson was deployed to Kalikunda Air Base, India, and in 2007, Ali Air Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

While at Ali Air Base, an attack occurred nearby, Wilson said.

“My team was about to depart Iraq after completing our deployment when there was a massive insurgent attack in the city adjacent to our deployed location,” Wilson said. “We were the only EMT-qualified firefighters and we heard the request for all available firefighter EMTs to the base entry control point. We commandeered a bus to get us to the location and I was given a Humvee ambulance, one additional firefighter, and an Army nurse and told to head out to pick up casualties. We responded to the chaos and through multiple trips, transported and treated 11 Iraqis. Nine survived.”

In June 2008, Wilson was promoted to technical sergeant. In May 2009, he was transferred to Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, as fire protection assistant chief of operations until 2011, when he was transferred to Alaska and received a promotion to master sergeant in 2012.

“I always wanted my family to come see these amazing places I’ve lived,” Wilson said. “I talked my mother into visiting Alaska in January and took her for a short hike on a glacier in negative 20-degree weather. It’s like visiting another planet. The kids had a great time sliding down frozen waves and climbing through the crevices. I believe everyone should be investing in experiences, not stuff. Those are the things we can always carry with us, the things that shape us.”

In 2014, Wilson was transferred to Thumrait Air Base, Oman, where he coordinated a joint coalition firefighter training program to be used as benchmark for training throughout the Middle East region. After returning from his deployment, he was assigned to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, in July 2015, where he served as deputy fire chief for two years, before taking an internship at the Department of Homeland Security in Frederick, Colorado, in December 2017. He returned to F.E. Warren the following year ending his service as the base response task force manager, building and training teams to respond to nuclear incidents.

“The most difficult part of my service is the time I spent away from my family,” Wilson said. “Not just my wife and children, but also the time we as a family have spent away from my extended family in North Carolina. My boys have never known what it’s like to have family down the road. We were only able to see them every two years throughout my career.”

Wilson received an Air Force Achievement Medal for his deployment to Ali Air Base, Iraq, and for the mass casualty incident. He also received commendation medals for his deployment to Thumrait Air Base, Oman, one for service to Lajes Air Base, Portugal, one for service to Kadena Air Base, Japan, and for his service in Charleston, South Carolina. He also received two Meritorious Service Medals for his four years of service in Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and for his 20 years of military service.

Master Sgt. Joshua C. Wilson’s military retirement ceremony was held on Saturday, June 15, at the American Legion Post 234, in Valdese. He officially retired on Sept. 1.

Wilson said he enjoyed seeing the world.

“My family and I lived in North Carolina, South Korea, South Carolina, Japan, Portugal, Alaska, Wyoming and Colorado,” Wilson said. “Even the exposure to the cultures on my deployments was amazing. There are incredible people everywhere on this planet, even in the most inhospitable places. Protecting the people I love, the American people, is what motivated me to join. The opportunity to serve around the world expanded that group immeasurably.”

Wilson currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, until the school season is finished, then plans on moving his family back to North Carolina and going back to school to complete his master’s degree, he said.

“I want to get back to the North Carolina mountains and make up for lost time with my family,” Wilson said. “I’ve lived all over the world and the United States, and there’s not a better place on the planet than the foothills of North Carolina. Pound’em Panthers!”

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Barbara Jolly-Deakle is a News Herald correspondent and a member of the Morganton Writers’ Group. She can be reached at BabbyWrites@CompasCable.net.

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