Today’s veteran: David Manning, 59
Service: Army 15 years
Duties: Tank commander
Rank: Staff sergeant
Recognitions: Army Commendation Medal (two); Army Achievement Medal (six); National Defense Service Medal; German Armed Forces Marksmanship Badge
Duty stations: Germany; Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Hood, Texas; Miami
His story: David Manning had an older brother and uncle who served in the Army, so there was never a question in him mind the military branch he’d serve in.
He expressed interest in an aviation career, but a recruiter told him he’d have to wait six months before a position opened. He was unwilling to wait that long because he had a wife, a child and he needed a job with health benefits so he enlisted to be part of a tank crew.
He was trained to perform any duty in the tank from driving and weapons to maintaining and repairing the vehicle.
“The best part was learning to drive a 52-ton vehicle. It was pretty cool,” he said.
After training, he was sent to Fort Lewis, Wash., where he continued to train with his crew.
“There was lots of cross training and drilling,” he said. “There was always competition between crews. It takes a precision team to know what your role is.”
He was sent to Germany during the Cold War, where he said his division had some tense moments.
“We’d go in the field for 30 to 45 days,” he said. “We had an alert three times a month. It was like clockwork.”
When they were staged because of a possible attack, Manning said he and fellow cremates slept inside or on the tanks.
The threat of a possible attack from the Soviet Union meant his unit was either training or staging at sites waiting.
“It was move out and get ready,” he said. “It was serious. Our tanks stayed battle ready.”
It got to the point where Manning said his unit was put on alert so often it was difficult to gauge how concerned he should be.
“I didn’t realize the threat we faced,” he said. “We would have been the first ones under attack. We all stuck together.”
He trained with British soldiers while he was in Germany and he was awarded the German Armed Forces Marksmanship Badge, a rare award that he was allowed to wear on his dress uniform. He was given the award for qualifying on every weapon used by German soldiers.
After his tour of duty in Germany, he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, where he trained in the field 20 to 40 days at a time. And they trained in the field four times a year.
“The reason we did it was to make sure we were combat ready,” he said. “Our whole company was really good.”
After three years at Fort Hood, Manning was assigned as a recruiter, an assignment that did not generate a lot of enthusiasm on his part.
“I was selected. I didn’t want to go,” he said.
Despite his reluctance, Manning earned awards for his recruitment efforts until a motorist ran a red light and got into a head-on collision with his vehicle, leading to a medical discharge.
“It cost me my military career,” he said. “I was going to stay in.”
Manning said he never lied to any of his recruits and he received many commendation letters from high-ranking officers thanking him for the soldiers he recruited.
Manning said the decision to enlist was among the best in his life.
“It made me more confident,” he said. “I had a better outlook on life.”
Our Veterans runs Wednesdays. Contact Gordon Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.