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San Antonio, officially recognized as “Military City USA,” is home to three bases with nearly 296,000 military members – almost 20 percent of our city’s population. For Memorial Day, we asked several local military members – a reservist and two veterans – about their experience in the military and civilians’ misconceptions; how it shaped their education, career, and family lives; and how they spend the holiday honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Brian Dillard, 34, served 10 years active duty in the U.S. Air Force as a cybersecurity specialist. He was stationed in Nebraska, Great Britain, and South Korea, and did one tour in southern Iraq. He returned to San Antonio in 2009 and now works as a security analyst for a local cybersecurity firm.
Rivard Report: Why did you join the military?
Brian Dillard: I failed one of my five college courses during my first semester at UTSA. After that, I decided I would let the military pay for the rest of my degree.
RR: Why did you leave the military?
BD: I wanted to be able to have input in the direction that my career and life would go. Toward the end of my time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice when it came to my career and I felt all of it was secondary to a rudimentary system of pushing/pulling personnel.
RR: Did you have family who served in the military before you?
BD: Yes. My Uncle Sherman Harper retired from the U.S. Navy, and my uncle Philip Branch served in the U.S. Army. Philip passed away before I was born, and Sherman passed away when I was a kid. Sherman was a major role model in my life and I think he would have been proud of me serving my country.
RR: Would you support your child enlisting in the military?
BD: I would prefer them not to, but if they chose to go that route, I would encourage them to go to college and earn a degree before joining. Being a non-commissioned officer was great, but I often felt that I missed out on a lot of potential leadership development by not serving as a commissioned officer, not to mention I would have loved to have gotten officers’ pay.
RR: Would you support a mandatory draft?
RR: How much attention do you pay to the politics in Washington, D.C.?
BD: National politics obviously play a large role when you’re in the military. I was very attentive to what was going on in D.C., so much so that before I left the military I got my bachelor’s degree in political science. I was lucky to have finished my term under a great president [Barack Obama]. I don’t know how I would feel if I were currently serving. When you’re deployed or serving somewhere like South Korea, you want to be assured that the people making the decisions up top are competent and level-headed.
RR: How would you describe the rapport between civilian and military populations in San Antonio?
BD: Our civilian population in San Antonio provides an enormous amount of support, respect, and gratitude. I can attest that it is appreciated by the service men and women that they interact with everyday.
RR: How does that rapport in other cities or countries compare to that of San Antonio?
BD: San Antonio is Military City, USA. There is no comparing to that. But when I was in other cities, they showed appreciation and respect for all of us. Even in foreign countries, we were always treated in a kind, warm, and welcome manner, but nowhere close to the feeling that San Antonians provide.
RR: What was the best part about being in the military?
BD: The travel. I was able to spend 10 years of my life experiencing other cultures all around the world. I truly miss that benefit.
RR: What was the hardest part about being in the military?
BD: The inability to make your own life decisions. The constant “hurry up and wait” routine also gets old.
RR: What do you wish civilians knew about the military?
BD: Every military member that you run into is an individual. We may be trained to operate in sync when needed, and we’ll always be a team, but we all have different religious beliefs, ideologies, and personal traits that may not fall in line with what civilians assume when they see a military member. Also, not all airmen fly planes.
RR: What is the biggest misconception civilians have about the military?
BD: That we all have a war-focused mindset. We’re prepared to be war-ready, but not all of us are war-hungry.
RR: How will you spend your Memorial Day?
BD: With friends and family, remembering those who weren’t able to make it back home, and treasuring the fact that I was blessed to make it back to see the folks I love.