OKEECHOBEE — Marvis Davis was born and raised in Okeechobee. He joined the Army when he was 16 years old, after persuading his mother to sign the papers. Immediately after his high school graduation, he was off to boot camp at Fort Jackson, N.C., before he even turned 18. Afterward, he was sent to Arizona for Advanced Individual Training at Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista.
There, he trained to be an imagery analyst. An imagery analyst looks at graphical data and interprets it to pull out useful information for applications such as military intelligence, medical diagnosis and archaeological surveying. They were responsible for reading satellite imagery. “The United States keeps surveillance of the world,” he said. “We were the guys that monitored that surveillance.” They took imagery from airplanes, helicopters, etc., as well. They also had to be very proficient at map reading.
When he first started out in 1999, they had to read off a hard copy, pictures you could hold in your hand, but eventually they got more into software where they could zoom in and see things more clearly. This training took about 21 weeks.
When he finished his training, he was stationed at Fort Jackson. From there, he was sent on a lot of different temporary duties for training to help him become more proficient with map reading.
One of his duties was at Fort Belvoir near Baltimore. Here he took a physics class. They studied the electromagnetic spectrum so they could better read imaging. This was probably his favorite duty, he said. He did enjoy the class, but mostly, he enjoyed the area. He was living in Washington, D.C., and enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds of the District of Columbia, he said.
At Northrop Grumman, he was a part of the team that first fielded the Army’s Tactical Exploitation System. That is a series of trucks they could take to the field during wartime and read imagery in real time. These teams were used as tactical collection assets as well as tactical assault teams. They could be used for intelligence collection as well as tactical objectives.
Before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, they were at Camp Doha in Kuwait. They would set up the vehicles in a certain configuration. They had a big antenna so they could talk to the satellites, and before the war started, they were mostly just stationed there. They were giving the commanders an idea what was going on out there on the proposed battlefield.
When he first arrived in Kuwait, he hated it. The first thing he noticed was the heat. He said he couldn’t even believe it was real. He thought it must be heat coming from the airplane, but it wasn’t. It really was 120 degrees. It was so hot even the birds didn’t fly, he said. If you looked under the eaves of the buildings, you would see hundreds of thousands of birds just sitting there in the shade trying to cool off.
Once he got used to it, he had a good time just being in a different country, different architecture. Everything was different. He liked the shopping in the marketplace and what they called a bazaar, which is similar to our flea markets. Most of the people were friendly and the food was good.
After the war started, those of the men who had gone to the class trained the other units so they could do the same things they were doing. He was able to work with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. “That was when stuff got exciting,” he said.
“Everything after the war started is pretty much a blur,” he said. “After the first few times being bombed, they just all blur together.”
He was in Iraq for about 18 months before he got to come back to the United States, and he was discharged soon after that. He served a total of eight years.
He made some close friends while in the service and still keeps in touch with some of them.
He moved back to Okeechobee seven or eight months ago to be near family. He works at Applebees and says he makes a mean cheesecake in his free time.
He would recommend joining the service to young people who are graduating but said each branch is different and they should consider that when deciding. “Think about what you want to do with your life and choose the one that will train you for that career,” he said. “Figure out what it is you like and make sure you have an exit strategy for when you get out.”
He also said if you do join, keep in mind that PTSD is real. When you get out, don’t be afraid to ask for help. He said he didn’t understand why he had trouble sleeping or woke up sweating or just dealt with things differently than other people. It took him years to realize he was dealing with PTSD.