It’s entertaining to walk up midway through a conversation. As I approached the table for my lunch meeting at the Texas Roadhouse in Greer, this particular exchange had already started to crescendo.
“But Dad, you don’t understand. I’ve been preparing for this, and I have a plan.”
“No, son, YOU don’t understand. I am UN-DE-FEATED at Connect-The-Dots. That means I CAN’T BE BEATEN. Every time you come against me, you lose. So you’re fighting a losing battle.”
“I don’t care, Dad. I have a plan. I’ll make the first line… right here.”
The son is young and doesn’t know better. The Dad is Tony Childs, a long-time resident of the upstate, former work colleague of mine, veteran military soldier, and – apparently – undisputed champion of Connect-The-Dots in his family. Physical descriptions of Tony vary from setting to setting. During the time that we were work colleagues, Tony would describe himself as “short, with hideous, troll-like features”, while I used to preemptively describe him to new employees as “Six foot three, 320 pounds, with skin as white as snow. We call him ‘The Albino’, but never to his face”. In reality, I can see over his head by just the smallest of margins, so that puts him somewhere between “Gimli with platform shoes” and “Normal height guy who’s going to kick my butt if I don’t knock it off”.
Hyperbolic descriptions aside, the first time I met Tony Childs was in the summer of 2011. We worked together at a logistics company in the upstate, and Tony had a well-deserved reputation for being a bit of a human dynamo. He was known for being a man who could get projects done, and who could do it with levity and good cheer. As we worked together, I learned more about Tony’s military background and credentials, so when Editorius Rex said that she wanted to highlight some military personnel for this issue of Upstate Exposures, I knew exactly who I wanted to talk to.
UPSTATE EXPOSURES: Just for the record – Name, rank, branch of service
TONY CHILDS: I am First Sergeant Anthony Childs, United States Army Reserve
UE: You’ve been in the military for how long now?
TC: A little over 21 years now. I enlisted in April 25, 1995 out of Cleveland, Ohio. It was my sophomore year of college. I had always wanted to be part of the military… I wasn’t getting everything out of college that I thought I was going to get, so I went down to the recruiter office and took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery -Ed.) I was going to be a Marine, actually… I scored a 99 on my ASVAB… I was gonna be a helicopter pilot for the Marine Corps. I got a waiver for my height because I’m 5’6” on a good day. I was gonna sign my contract and I said, “Now this guarantees that I get to be a pilot, right?” and he said, “Well, in the Marine Corps we don’t do it that way, son.” So I said, “So I could end up being a cook or a mechanic or something?” and he said “Yeah”. I said, “Thank you very much” and I walked out of the recruiting office and walked over there and talked to the Army, and the Army said, “We’ll guarantee you any job you want with that score”, so I joined the Army to be a Quartermaster and Chemical Equipment Repair Manager.
UE: Did you ever think about the Air Force or the Navy?
TC: The Air Force are all pilots, they’re all 6’1” and handsome, and I am the opposite. Like I said, I’m 4’3” and unpleasant to look at. And the Navy… something about being on a boat with a bunch of guys for long periods of time didn’t appeal to me, either. So it was going to be either the Army or the Marine Corps, and when the Marine Corps couldn’t guarantee me a job, the Army was my natural choice. It turns out that it was a good choice, it was a good fit for me.
UE: So your current MOS? (Military Occupational Specialty -Ed.)
TC: I don’t have an MOS right now. I’m in 91 Series technically, that’s in the Maintenance field, but at my rank, basically I’m in a position as First Sergeant where it’s MOS immaterial. Basically, I’m the First Sergeant of a Drill Sergeant company, so I have 12 Drill Sergeants that I direct and keep an eye on and look out for.
UE: So you said you’ve been in this for 21 years now? You wouldn’t be doing this for this long if there wasn’t some sense of purpose or value that you continue to find in this. So what is it that motivates you to keep doing this?
TC: I’ve got the best job in the Army. I spent most of my career as a Basic Training Drill Sergeant. You get ‘em off the bus on Day Zero, and it’s 220 scared, shaved, bawling sheep, and it’s our job – the 12 of us – to take that sea of chaotic civilians and turn them into a cohesive military formation, and I loved it. Long hours, no time off… Basic Training at Fort Jackson, especially in the summer, it’s like the left hand side of the sun. It’s one of the hottest places on the planet. It’s just miserable. And I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to do it day after day, week after week. I ended up doing almost three years active duty on the trail – that’s what they call it – pushing basic trainees. And then when they made me a First Sergeant, not only could I impact my platoon, but now I’m in charge of 12 Drill Sergeants. I’m in charge of 240 soldiers. I’ve got the whole company now that I’m responsible for, and I can really make a big impact. And going down to Fort Jackson year after year after year, even as a reservist, and getting to train those kids is just… seeing when they come off the bus, just scared and not knowing anything and confused and out of shape and undisciplined, the list goes on and on… and then fast-forwarding nine weeks and seeing them at graduation is just incredible.
UE: In 21 years of service, have you seen any active duty? Have you seen any combat at this point?
TC: No sir. Both of my deployments have been stateside. I spent, like I said, about three years active duty training basic trainees, and then I spent two years out at Fort Hunter Liggett training Army Reserve units right before they got mobilized. As Drill Sergeants, we have a pretty good skill set of teaching rifle marksmanship, pistols, machine guns, convoy survivability, IED defeat… we’ve got a real good skill set, and we get tapped frequently. As a matter of fact, I’m about to start my next deployment. It’s another CONUS deployment (Continental United States -Ed.) where actually they’re using us to train United States Navy personnel to embed with US Army ground combat forces. So instead of teaching basic trainees for nine weeks at a time in a very fast-paced, high stress, no time off, no-room-for-error type of environment, we’re about to train members of the US Navy at 14-day, 15-day stretches at a time. A lot of these guys are E3’s… Privates… but a lot of them are non-commissioned officers, many of them are officers. There’ll be trainees there that’ll actually out-rank the trainers. So it’s a different atmosphere, it’s a different audience, and we have to train them differently. It’s a whole new challenge and it’s going to be another test and another chapter in this great book that we’ve already started writing. I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it.
UE: If you had an opportunity and a bully pulpit to give a piece of advice to young people in the upstate who are contemplating their futures, with your experience that you’ve had so far, what kind of advice would you give to someone who’s at that fork in the road in their life where they’re trying to decide what they want to do?
TC: Do your homework, and if you want to become part of something bigger than you, that’s going to be around after you’re gone, I highly recommend service in ANY branch, especially in the Reserves. The thing I like about the Reserves is that the military is part of my life, I’m not necessarily part of the military life. I have a civilian career, AND I have a military career. So I think of all the benefits, and all the great things and all the great people… as a member of the Reserves, Uncle Sam has paid for every bit of my college. Uncle Sam is about to pay for my second Master’s degree, and I’m just… I couldn’t be happier with my service in the Unites States Army Reserve, and I highly recommend it to anybody, to any branch, for any length of time. Even two years. The benefits far outweigh the cost.
As we tore into our man-sized burgers (his medium, mine well-done), salad (his, not mine) and steak fries (mine, not his), what struck me the most about Tony’s military service is the passion in his voice when he speaks of it. Far from being drudgery or an obstacle to be overcome, Tony’s military service is something that he views as a challenge, a goal to attain. The enthusiasm with which he speaks of the military is infectious, his energy a confirmation that this is not rehearsed – his passion is real, his sense of belonging and purpose is innate, and his sincerity is undeniable.
In a day and age where traditional institutions and ideals are frequently under assault, spending time with Tony Childs is a reminder that there are higher ideals, and that discipline – rather than something to be feared – is a powerful tool that can change a person from something that’s weak and ineffective into something that’s focused and formidable. I couldn’t help but wonder how my life might have turned out differently if I had met someone like Tony in my youth. He’s a force of nature.
And as for that game of Connect-The-Dots with his son? Tony won by almost 4-to-1. He’s still the undisputed champion in his family. He’s a force of nature in games, too.
Shawn Kitchen, Editor-At-Large
Shawn is an avid motorcycle rider and enthusiast. He is also the former Editor-At-Large for RC Heli Magazine.