Before he put on the uniform himself, Jon Beck, 22, admired those who served and wore the uniform of the nation.
"I always had respect for those who served, for that uniform," he said. "I realized at a certain point that I needed to make my own contribution."
Another inspiration he had was some of his friends were already in the Arkansas National Guard and were serving at the local armory. So, this sealed the deal in his decision to join the infantry and become a rifleman.
"The armory here in Arkansas and the one at Hope house troops from the same unit," he said, referring to First Battalion, 153d Infantry Regiment, Bravo Company."
But to join them, he had to begin his journey at Fort Benning, Ga., home of the infantry, at an infamous place in the U.S. Army that produces new infantrymen.
"Sand Hill was seriously culture shock," said Beck. "I had never done anything like it in my life. I went in as a civilian and was plunged into the middle of this chaos. I was rushing around, getting yelled at, running and marching everywhere. Then showing up to wait for hours some places. The classic Army hurry up and wait routine."
Eventually he made his way through training, learning how to be a soldier and an infantryman and he realized he missed his family.
"Graduation day was nice, emotionally overwhelming, it was good to see my family again," he said.
One of the reasons he did decide to join, however, was knowledge that the home unit was preparing for a deployment, and Beck wanted to get in on that.
"I joined in 2015 and was sent to training in 2016," he said. "And we deployed Jan. 1, 2017, shortly after I came back from training."
Before his unit headed out to their area of operations, they were sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, to brush up on various skills, weaponsand operations and to get additional training in urban operations.
"We were there at Bliss a month, training up, getting ready. We wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing," he said. "We even had a simulated village made to be like the ones in our operating areas in Africa."
"I was ready to deploy," said Beck. "I'd never been overseas before and I wanted to go. Knowing my unit was going to deploy was a big part of me signing up when I did. It was almost spur of the moment. I decided and in one week, I was sworn in. And now I was getting ready to ship to Africa."
Beck's whole battalion was sent on this mission, with the battalion being mostly set up in the African nation of Djibouti. However, Bravo Company had a different mission.
"We were set up in a different location and a big part of it was pulling base security for the special operations guys stationed there, Secret Squirrel stuff," he said.
But that base was not the only place they stayed at during their deployment, which took up most of 2017.
"We were all over the place," he said. "We visited five different countries while we were there. Towards the end, the base we were guarding was in the process of being shut down and vacated. The last two weeks were miserable and kind of nerve wracking. At that point, we had no electricity, no running water. We were living the real infantry life. But we were ready to leave. Not only was the base shutting down and things were uncomfortable, but South Sudanese forces were moving into the area at the end. And some of us were concerned we might get shot at. We were glad to be out of there."
Though Beck got the deployment he wanted, made the rank of specialist and may be promoted to sergeant soon, he thinks that the six years he signed up for may be it for him.
"I'm in my senior year here at Texas A&M-Texarkana and will graduate soon with a business degree," he said. "I'm getting into the building materials supply business, taking over my dad's old business. The name is JR's Building Supplies. I am to open for business at the beginning of next year."
With his current plans, the military part-time life is complicated to juggle, so he plans to hang up his rank when his contract ends. That said, he is at the three-year mark of a six-year hitch. And so far, he has gotten what he signed up for.
"It is life-changing," he said. "Humbling. Seeing other cultures and ways of life. Most Americans don't really appreciate just how good we have it here."
He does recommend service to those who may be interested.
"You don't have to make a career out of it," he said. "But doing some time is worth the experience."