By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
The military is the best place for a young person, says Pastor Wesley Dobbs.
He knows. He joined up just a few months after graduating from Fairmont Senior in 1959. During his two years in the Army and two more in the 201st Field Artillery Regiment of the National Guard, he learned a lot.
He learned self-discipline. Focus. Training. And patience.
Stationed in Germany for 19 months, he was trained as a battery clerk, the one to handle all the paperwork for his master sergeant and colonel. When his time in the Army was up, he signed up for the National Guard.
“If you have no ambition for college, then you know you can go into the military. You can get your schooling, pick up a trade if you choose, get paid. That makes a difference. Even if you join when you’re 18, 19, and stay for 20 years, you’ll still be young when you get out and can still get a good job.”
As a Marion County home confinement officer since 2002, he has learned the self-discipline it takes to make it in the military and out in the world.
The military also offered a few other perks.
“It’s a great way of life,” he said. “I would never have seen Germany if I were not in the military.”
With Frankfurt just miles away, Paris not that much farther and Russia “right across the border,” he lived in the thick of history. As he patrolled the Berlin Wall, he could see Russian soldiers on the other side doing the same.
He did not serve in Vietnam, but two brothers did and made it back. Unfortunately, he lost some friends in that war.
“I see self-discipline lacking right now in our young people,” Dobbs said. “Military training is good training. In the military, you can’t do just what you want to. Everything is timed.”
The fundamental elements of military life — getting up at 4 for reveille, enduring basic training, obeying commands — teach a person well, he said.
“If you receive what they try to give you, you’ll be a better man or woman,” he said.
Whether working for the city, as a home confinement officer, in the mines or at the pulpit, he has taken those lessons and applied them to his life.
“I knew I could do what I wanted to do,” he said. “I knew I wanted to better myself. I saw in the service that you can be all that you want to be if you apply yourself. The military prepares you for the outside world. So many people have a chip on their shoulders. They think the world owes them this or that. But the world owes you nothing. You are here only by the grace of God. You are responsible for whatever you do.”
That’s how he brought up his three sons.
“I tried to bring them up in the way the military taught me,” Dobbs explained. “I told them nobody owes them anything. You work for whatever you get.”
And they did, with the eldest and middle sons serving in the military.
“I told them if you don’t want to go to college, do something with your life. Don’t just hang around the streets,” he said. “I see so many young people doing that and their lives going down the tubes. Every person has to have a goal. I would hate to think of waking up in the morning and have 24 hours of doing nothing. I couldn’t stand that.
“The military makes a difference.”
His military training gave him the patience he needed to find his true calling in the Baptist church.
“I felt God helped me 100 percent,” he said. “I just felt deep inside I was to do more than be just a church member.”
He originally started his life as clergy in another denomination, but after a while realized his true place was in the Baptist church.
“The military taught me I had to have focus. If you focus, you can make it,” he said. “That and patience all comes into play. A lot of times you don’t see it but then you say, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ And that makes a difference.”
Everything in the military has a purpose, even basic training, he said.
“You may think, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ but they’re trying your patience to see if you’re going to make it,” Dobbs said. “And that’s what life is all about. If you can’t make it in the little things, you can’t make it in the big things.
“There is so much the military teaches you, but you have to take advantage of it,” he added. “You can complain every day until you get out and then do nothing. Or you can come out and say, ‘Hey, I know I can do this.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
His life probably would have been a lot different had he not joined the military.
“Being a veteran means a lot to me,” he said. “Many lives have been lost for freedom. To be able to say I was a part of that and still a part of that ... I thank God for those who have lost their lives. Being a veteran is very important to this country.
“I am proud to have served my country.”
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.