Current Howard County Commissioner and Army Veteran Jack Dodd spent two years active duty and 20 years in the reserve, and his time in the service was varied – and often unexpected.
Dodd enlisted in the army right out of high school in 1974, and he was sent to Fort Knox in Kentucky. He joined with the hopes of becoming an armorer to work on small weapons, but that wasn’t in the cards for him.
“I got out of basic training, walked about 500 feet to where I was supposed to get on-the-job training, and I had this big, burly first sergeant. He said, ‘I don’t need an armorer.’ He said, ‘Can you type?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And he said, ‘You’re my new training NCO (noncommissioned officer).’ So that’s what I did,” Dodd said.
Dodd worked in training until he received orders to be shipped to Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania to process Vietnamese refugees. It was the fall of the Vietnam War, and the U.S. was bringing back refugees. Dodd’s duties were, first, to make the camp livable. It hadn’t been used in years and wasn’t in great condition.
When the refugees started coming in, Dodd worked to process them. They had to house them, create paperwork for them, and send them to different spots around the United States.
“It was very interesting to see. You saw families come through. You saw kids come through. You saw single adults come through. You just saw a little bit of everything come through,” he said. “You saw people come through with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was sad. You saw kids come through with no families, very sad … You get to know the Vietnamese very well, and they needed to resettle here in the United States. They were scared. They were excited. They didn’t know what to expect.”
The processing of the refugees started in spring 1975 and continued into the fall. Fort Indiantown Gap was one of several processing camps in the U.S. That camp processed 26,000 refugees alone.
“It received a lot of media coverage at the time. It was one of those things that the people of the area, some people were very receptive. Some people did not want that camp there,” he said.
Afterward, Dodd got out of the army and returned to Kokomo. It was tough, he said, as there weren’t many jobs available. So, he decided to join the army reserve and headed to Grissom Air Force Base and trained to be a reserve drill sergeant.
He later began a career as a mental health professional working at Community Howard Regional Health, and he never expected to be activated.
“We used to have these standing jokes that, in the time of war, they would take anybody besides us. I mean, they wouldn’t need the reserve drill sergeants. And then we got a surprise,” Dodd said.
It was January 1991, and Dodd was working at the hospital. He remembered a secretary coming in and telling Dodd he needed to take a call. His first sergeant was on the phone, and he told Dodd he was being activated and that he had to report tomorrow at 0700 hours.
Dodd was caught off guard. He went into his boss’ office and told him he had to leave right then, and he didn’t know when he’d be back.
“There were a lot of things to think about, to get ready, my family, my kids,” he said. “So I left and went home, told my wife, got my stuff together, and the next morning we had to report to Fort Benning.”
His orders read for a year, and his job was to get ready to receive several thousand troops because it was believed another draft could start as Desert Storm was continuing. Dodd and the other service members had to create “massive” plans on how they were going to train the troops. However, the plans never materialized. The war was getting better daily, and another draft never happened.
After 61 days, Dodd was able to return home, and he continued out his time in the reserve. He said he enjoyed being a reserve drill sergeant.
“Being a drill sergeant in the military was an honor. You see some of these active duty drill sergeants, and you know, it’s just amazing the level of dedication they put into training these young troops. It is truly amazing, male and female drill sergeants,” Dodd said.
He also thanked those who’ve served, including his wife and two brothers. His wife, Brenda, was a nurse in the army reserve and a second lieutenant for eight years. His brothers both were active duty. Robert Dodd was in the U.S. Navy and served during the Cuban missile crisis. Dan Dodd also served and suffers from the effects of Agent Orange.