OKEECHOBEE — Born and raised in Okeechobee, Travis Futch joined the Army a month after his high school graduation and shipped off to boot camp in August 1997. He joined because he was not ready to go back to school, although he had two scholarship offers. He was just ready to take a little break from school, he said. In addition, he made the decision not to stay in Okeechobee, because he did not feel there was any opportunity for him to become successful if he stayed, especially if he was not going to go to college.
His mom was not excited about his decision to join the military, because he had always played sports, and everyone envisioned him going to college and continuing his sports career.
Growing up, he pictured himself as a football star or a doctor, and when he joined, he signed up to be a combat medic, thinking that would be a path to the medical field. He was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for basic training and then to Fort Sam Houston for AIT (Advanced Individual Training). Unfortunately, he soon discovered that being a combat medic would not lead to him becoming a doctor, he said. They gave him the option to reclassify with a different MOS (military occupation specialty) or he could go home.
He made the decision to change his MOS to chemical, biological, radiological nuclear specialist and was sent to Fort McClellan, Ala., for training. When he started out, it was NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical). Sometime around 2003, they added more to the specialty.
His first duty station was at Fort Hood, Texas. He was there from 1998 until 2002 when he was sent to an air base in Seoul, Korea. There, he worked with an aviation unit. With the aviation unit, he was the commander’s direct advisor on all things chemical-related. This unit had never had a chemical specialist before. If they had any chemical-related questions, the closest thing they had to a specialist was someone who had attended a two-week course. They had no chemical program in place, so he spent his first three months there building a chemical program from the ground up. They received a “commendable” on their first inspection by the Eighth Army, the highest headquarters in Korea at the time. In addition, they were named the best program on the peninsula.
Because it was his first time out of the country, he did not do much in Korea other than work. He said he was very reserved and kept to himself. He went to school and completed his associate’s degree while he was over there. He also spent a lot of time working out and lifting weights. After a few months, he began venturing out a little to do some shopping, but “I definitely did not drive over there. The traffic was horrible,” he said.
After that tour, he came back to the States for a short time, but then 9/11 occurred, and he was deployed to Iraq. On that tour, he was a surveyor for chemicals. He explained that he rode around in an over-pressurized vehicle with arm extensions. It had all the proper protective equipment so he could test for chemicals in the soil and air. The only thing it did not test for was biological, he said. They had other people and methods equipped to do that. His vehicle could even swim.
When he arrived in Iraq, he was a staff sergeant, but when he left a year later and returned to Fort Hood, he was promoted to sergeant first class. He had been in the Army seven and a half years at that point.
After having foot surgery for an injury, he went to Fort Leonard Wood to attend drill sergeant school but reinjured his foot and returned to Fort Hood. When he had healed, he was given the choice to return to drill sergeant school or to deploy, and he chose to deploy.
He was sent back to Iraq, where he served as the quick reaction force platoon sergeant. They were the first force to react to anything suspicious outside the wire (safe zone) or to anyone needing assistance. They were on call 24 hours a day for the 15 months he was there.
He had a second tour in Korea and was assigned to the Osan Air Base. One of the most memorable things about that tour was his arrival at the air base. “As you get off the plane and onto the tarmac, you notice the smell. They use a lot of feces for fertilizer,” he said. “The only thing you smelled was poop. Getting off the plane was horrible, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to like it here!’ I got used to it after a while, though.” He participated in five cultural tours while he was there and said you would never know how beautiful the country is if you didn’t go on the cultural tours.
He returned to Fort Hood, which he said he has always loved. He left there long enough to take an advanced non-commissioned officer (NCO) course, but then returned after he completed it. He was assigned to the 36th Engineer Brigade and served as the colonel’s senior enlisted advisor on all chemical matters. However, he was only there for about five months before being deployed to Iraq again.
During this tour in Iraq, he did his normal chemical-type duties and also served as the commander’s intel NCO. They began to implement the draw down of forces in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, and he was sent back to the States.
He was given the choices of going to Afghanistan to become a platoon sergeant or to go back to Fort Hood and find a job he would like. He had already served as a platoon sergeant for five or six years and wanted to do something different. He opted to go back to Fort Hood, and served with 13th Chemical Company, where he was a biological integrated detection system platoon sergeant. Approximately seven months later, that company was inactivated.
About that time, he was called to his sergeant major’s office and told he was selected for master sergeant. He had been in the service for about 12 years when this happened.
He was sent to Stuttgart, Germany, for two years, and for the first year served as chemical specialist. For about five months, he served in the absence of a garrison command sergeant major. After the first year, they moved him down to become the first sergeant of the headquarters company. There, he was in charge of about 150 people.
When he returned to the States, he went to Fort Leonard Wood again and worked as a proponency NCO. Basically, this meant he was a senior career manager. When this job ended, he became a first sergeant of a basic training company. He enjoyed this position and wanted to continue, but he was recognized as the number one first sergeant in the brigade and was pulled up to work as staff to fill in for the sergeant major when he was out.
During his time in the service, he developed a tactical leaders course, oversaw the training of 5,000 civilians annually, developed training and oversaw non-commissioned officer and soldier of the month competition boards and coordinated the 5th Special Forces Group to facilitate rifle marksmanship training.
In January 2016, he went back to Fort Hood as an operations manager and was responsible for 500 soldiers. He was also the senior advisor to the commander on chemical matters while he was there. In December 2016, he was promoted to sergeant major.
They wanted to send him to Korea for another year, but they would not allow him to take his family, and he decided it was time to retire. In November 2017, he was officially retired.
Now he works at Soldier for Life as an employment facilitator and counselor.
Mr. Futch and his wife, Delia, have five children, two in college and three little ones. “They are what keeps me going,” he said. “I am truly blessed.”