Times were different 32 years ago when a young Pvt. LaMarquis Knowles enlisted in the Army in September 1983.

The country was locked in the middle of the Cold War, Arnold Schwarzenegger, future governor of California, became a U.S. citizen, and Radio Shack announced their second color computer was being sold.

When Knowles enlisted, the Army was going through a major transformation and his career didn’t start exactly the way he hoped.

“I went to the recruiter’s office and he told me what I thought I wanted to hear,” said Knowles. “So I started my career as a mechanic and I knew from basic training I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to be a grunt.”

Knowles was able to change his occupation to a career that he longed for and would one day take him to become the 82nd Airborne Division’s command sergeant major.

Community leaders and distinguished guests from around the world joined the All American Division paratroopers in paying tribute to Knowles and his wife Pam, as he concluded his uniformed service.

Knowles retired from the Army on Tuesday, with hundreds of current and former division paratroopers rendering honors on Stang Field at Fort Bragg.

“I never set a goal to one day serve in this position,” said Knowles. “I never had my eyes set on being the next anybody, I just wanted to be all that I could be.”

Knowles thrived with the discipline and structure of the Army and his competitive drive pushed him to be the best.

He quickly climbed through the ranks and sought out every professional development opportunity he could find. Ranger School, Jumpmaster School, Pathfinder, jungle warfare, air movement officer and the Equal Opportunity Course were just some of the few.

“Knowles sought the toughest and most critical leadership opportunity within the division,” said Lt. Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO Allied Land Command and former All American 6.

For the next 14 years, Knowles served in combat leading paratroopers as a first sergeant, as a battalion command sergeant major and again as a brigade command sergeant major.

“As a division command sergeant major, he trained, prepared and deployed our battalions and brigades to combat,” said Nicholson.

“Noncommissioned officers like Knowles whose discipline, unrelenting drive for excellence and genuine concern, has saved countless lives while accomplishing every mission,” said Nicholson.

Knowles’ previous assignments as command sergeant major include: the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort. Polk, Louisiana, command sergeant major of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div., at Fort Bragg, and forward deployed to Iraq, command sergeant major of 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div., at Fort Bragg, and forward deployed to Iraq, and interim command sergeant major of 2nd Bn., 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. at Fort Bragg.

“It was good fortune to have the opportunity to select him as the division command sergeant major of the 82nd Airborne Division,” said Nicholson.

“He commanded enormous respect from the senior NCOs of the dozen plus multinational airborne units we trained,” he added.

Although Knowles ventured to places like Germany, Georgia, and Texas during his career, he always managed to return to Fort Bragg.

“I guess it’s fitting that I started my career here and I will end it here,” said Knowles. “My body may never exit an aircraft again, but in my heart and soul, I am now and forever will be an American paratrooper.”