Leo Dowden came from a family with a deep tradition of military service and he wanted to carry on that legacy.
"All my sisters had joined, so when it came to be my turn, I stepped up," he said. "I picked 12 Bravo, combat engineer. I wanted to blow stuff up. I did get to do so, though not as much as I wanted to."
Dowden was introduced to the U.S. Army and his drill sergeants at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, with both basic training and advanced individual training under the same drill sergeants.
"Basic was frightening, exciting. All in all, a good experience. It helped me with discipline," he said. "I had moments coming up, and this helped me with discipline. I learned to shut my mouth, open my ears and do what I was told. It made me want to be a better person as I learned to be a soldier."
Dowden's first assignment was at Fort Hood, Texas, where he was added to the roster of the 91st Engineering Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. He spent two years with that unit. After that, Dowden joined the active component of the Army Reserves.
"I was assigned to the active cadre of an Army Reserve unit based in Little Rock, Arkansas," he said. "I had made the rank of specialist at this point. It was a support unit, laid back sergeant major in charge. I just showed up, did physical training, went through the ranges and qualifications to stay current. Otherwise, a laid back assignment."
Dowden did three years in the Army Reserve, active slot. He left the service in 2003. He now lives in Texarkana, Texas, and is going for his bachelor's degree in psychology, with a minor in social work.
"I'm possibly aiming to work in child protective services," he said.
From his service days, he learned to take everything with a grain of salt.
"Expect the unexpected," he said. "As a Christian, I also lean on my faith in getting me through the tough times in the service. It still plays a major part in my life."