Not unlike many post-9/11 youths, 1st Lt. Cole E. Anderson felt compelled to serve in the military as he approached his 2002 high school graduation.
Inspired by two grandfathers who served as Air Force officers, and encouraged by a straight-shooting recruiter, the Sacramento, Calif., native signed up in April of his senior year to become an enlisted airborne infantryman.
Anderson, who currently serves as a military intelligence officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, here, said military programs have not only helped him advance his career, but they have helped him provide a better life for his Family.
The first thing the Army provided, Anderson said, was direction. The high school athlete was playing baseball and knew he wanted to go to college, but wasn’t sure which college he’d attend or what he’d study. Signing up for the Army gave him a plan to work with and helped fulfill his sense of duty, he said.
Anderson said he knew he’d have the summer after high school and then he would then have to leave his life, and his high school sweetheart, Allison, behind.
“He was one year ahead of me and had signed up for the Army before we had started dating, so it was already in motion,” said Allison Anderson, now the military intelligence officer’s wife. “I think at the time it was really hard but it was something that he had already determined that he wanted to do, so we just kind of made it work at that point. Being in high school, neither of us really knew what it meant.”
What it meant was Anderson and Allison lived apart for more than a year while the new recruit completed training, was stationed here and subsequently deployed to Iraq in 2003. Anderson said when he redeployed he and Allison agreed she should move to Fort Bragg to marry him and to be with him to complete the final year of his military obligation.
The military intelligence officer said he and Allison had solid plans in place when he processed out of the Army.
“Both of us really decided then that I was going to get out and that we were going to go to college,” Anderson said. “(Allison’s) parents pushed her a lot harder than my parents pushed me but it was decided.”
The newlyweds applied to the University of Nevada at Reno, and Anderson arranged to get out of the military on a school drop, so he could begin school in the fall semester of 2005. The couple moved to Reno, Nev., acquired jobs and began school a few weeks later.
Anderson said he used the Montgomery G.I. Bill and tuition assistance from the Army National Guard and later from the Air Guard, to finance his education and take care of his Family.
“If you have a good plan you can make it work out,” Anderson said. “You can make it a lot easier to go to college and that’s what we did. Utilizing both the G.I. Bill and the National Guard tuition assistance program made it really easy to get through college financially.”
As he and Allison approached their graduation date the young couple faced another fork in the road. Anderson said he felt he needed to continue military service — this time as an officer, however — and he needed to support his Family. The college graduate applied for Officer Candidate School, earned his commission as a military intelligence officer and moved his Family to Fort Bragg for the second time.
Anderson said the healthcare benefits the military offered encouraged his and Allison’s leap into parenthood shortly after they arrived. Grace, a healthy baby girl, was born at Womack Army Medical Center.
“I have a daughter because (of the healthcare the Army provided),” Anderson said. “It was a very, very easy process — they covered all of our bills.”
The military intelligence officer said the Army’s parenting-related programs have continued to help him and Allison navigate through being first-time parents. Allison said she and her husband attended birthing classes before Grace was born, and that professionals from the New Parent Support Program regularly visit the Family’s home to check on Grace’s development.
“Being a first-time parent you need a little extra help,” Allison said. “You don’t have your mom right there to show you how she did it so being able to get out and get that information without feeling like you’re doing it wrong, is nice.”
“We feel really comfortable that the Army’s providing that,” Anderson added.
Anderson spent most of 2012 deployed to Afghanistan, and said he continues to enjoy his job in the military intelligence field. He said he and Allison aren’t sure they are going to make the Army a career, but haven’t ruled the possibility out. They both said they are thankful for the military programs that have bettered their lives.
“I think honestly, the Army has made it possible for us to start a Family earlier than maybe if we had just stayed in the civilian world; being able to get the healthcare and having me be able to stay home with (Grace) has been nice,” Allison said.
“The Army has blessed me with everything I have now,” Anderson said. “I own my own home … I have a daughter … and I’ve obviously got the education that the Army provided me,” Anderson said. “There (are) just so many benefits. If people take advantage of them, you can really improve the quality of your life.”