Tuition aid leads to military career
A consensus among friends, some encouragement from a recruiter and a desire to help his parents pay for his college tuition led Jeff Scales to enlist in the Virginia National Guard in 1982.
Dr. Scales, now a retired Cumberland County Public Schools administrator, recalled that he and his friends and classmates, Cliff White and Jeff Morris, shared a common interest back in the early ’80s.
“We all, at that point, wanted to go into the National Guard,” Scales said.
White’s uncle, Sgt. Ralph Mullins, was the National Guard recruiter who helped encourage them.
White and Morris enlisted, and Scales said he ended up doing so a year after them.
“What else motivated me beyond that was the fact that I wanted to help my family out by getting the college assistance for signing up, for getting enlisted,” Scales said. “The tuition assistance was a big help for my parents with college at (James Madison University) JMU.”
When Scales enlisted in the Virginia National Guard, he became part of its U.S. Army component, serving in the Army Reserve from 1982-84. He started out as an infantry mortarman.
He said he would have simply stayed enlisted in the National Guard for six years, but that trajectory changed when his drill instructor gave him a key bit of encouragement and advice.
“He said, ‘You’d make a good officer, you need to go into your (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) ROTC program,’ and I thought he was crazy, but I did (it),” Scales said. “I ended up going into ROTC when I got back to JMU.”
He participated in what is called a Simultaneous Membership Program, serving in the National Guard while undergoing officer training through the ROTC program at the same time.
This led to multiple key milestones in 1984.
“At the same time as I was getting honorably discharged from the National Guard, I was also getting commissioned to go on active duty as an (artillery) officer,” Scales said. “So I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in May of 1984.”
On May 5, he was commissioned at 8 a.m. and then graduated from James Madison University with his bachelor’s degree in political science a couple hours later.
“It was a busy day for the Scales family that day,” he said.
As an active duty officer, Scales initially had to go take the officer basic course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
He was approved to go to airborne school, and he also ended up going to ranger school. He finished airborne school in February 1985 and finished ranger school in April 1985, becoming an airborne ranger.
“After I went through my basic course, I was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where I was an executive officer for a basic training unit for about 18 months,” he said. “Then after that, I left in September of 1986 and went to Korea. I was stationed at Camp Hovey, (South) Korea, and later stationed at Camp Stanley.”
He noted that at Camp Hovey, he was a fire support team leader, and at Camp Stanley, he was headquarters battery executive officer.
He was in Korea from October 1986 to October 1987 and then returned to Fort Sill for his advanced officer course.
“From Fort Sill and the advanced course, I ended up going to my last active duty station, and that was Fort Stewart, Georgia,” Scales said.
During his time in the Army, he was given the opportunity to travel to a variety of places across the U.S. that also included New York, Alaska and California.
He received an honorable discharge from the military in 1990.
“My initial obligation as an officer was six years, so when I signed up and got commissioned, it was a six-year commissioning,” Scales said. “I could have extended, but I decided to get out. I had been married about four years, wanted to start a family.”
Part of life in the Army involved not knowing where he would be located long term.
“I think my next duty station was going to be in Germany, and for family reasons, I was trying to get closer to home, so I decided to move on,” he said.
The last few days of his time in the military proved to be dramatic, however, and they held the potential of his discharge being significantly delayed.
He was on leave, working at a company called the Commodore Corporation in Indiana.
“I had actually gotten out June 15 on leave, but my final ending date on active duty was Aug. 1,” he said. “And I’m up in Indiana. I will never forget. We were watching (the) ‘Today’ show, and it’s like, ‘It’s breaking news — Iraq has crossed the border into Kuwait.’”
Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, which ultimately led to the start of the Persian Gulf War.
Scales said Fort Stewart was a rapid deployment force for the Army, so he knew they would be moving out first, and they did. He was just surprised the entire division was not activated until Aug. 7.
He noted that some military members who were set to retire were not able to at that point.
“So I had to actually call my mother from Indiana,” he said, “telling her, ‘Mom, if the Army calls and tells me to come back, tell them (to) give me 48 hours. I’m in Indiana working for a company, but my stuff’s packed up, give me 48 hours. I’ll get down there.’ And we never got that call, so that was a surprise, that was a real surprise.”
Scales’ last rank in the Army was captain.
He ultimately served two years as an enlisted man in the National Guard and six years as an officer in the Army, from the time he was 20 to 28.
He continued his academic work after he got out of the military, ultimately earning a doctorate.
He became an administrator in both the Cumberland County and Fluvanna County school systems.
He was a teacher, athletics director and assistant principal at Cumberland County High School, then served as an assistant principal in Fluvanna for seven years before returning to be principal of Cumberland County Elementary School for one year. After that, he was principal of Cumberland High School for six years.
Now retired, he lives in the Cartersville end of the county.
He noted that his former classmates and fellow guardsmen, White and Morris, live in Cumberland as well. White just retired from the National Guard after 30-plus years.
Reflecting on how his own experience in the military helped him in life, Scales said he was aided by the leadership. The experience taught him about perseverance, and he learned to be flexible.
He also said he learned how to work with people from all kinds of different backgrounds. He said he went to school with people from Korea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa and all over the U.S.
“In the military, we all bleed green, and that’s a good adage,” he said.
The lessons he learned of how to communicate and work with everybody for the greater good informed how he later ran schools.
If he could go back in time and face the decision of joining the military again, Scales said he would join up, but he would do it differently.
“I would do it differently because I would look at some of the job options that highly relate to out there in the civilian sector if I ever did get out,” he said. “So I would tell kids in a heartbeat, ‘I love the Army and all, but if I had to do it all over again and try to pick up skills for possible future options, then I would look at doing the Air Force first, Navy second, Army third and Marines last.’”
Though there are shifting perspectives of America, Scales said he is always proud of his military service.
“It’s given me a lot of good friends, a lot of people I still relate and keep contact with, great people, but the biggest thing, again, is service to our country,” he said. “And yes, I’m as proud of our country now as any other time.”
To see the full Salute to Veterans edition click here.
Prince Edward County resident Silas Blanton was born in the nearby Cumberland County in 1959. Growing up, he attended Luther... read more