|FORT DIX, N.J., July 5, 2007 — Sgt. 1st Class Michael Gholston comes off the firing line and takes off his Kevlar helmet. Large droplets of sweat stream down his face. Gholston wipes the sweat from his brow and looks around at his fellow Oregon National Guard soldiers.
“Drink water,” Gholston says, slinging his M-4 rifle onto his shoulder. Hearing their squad leader, the other soldiers drink deeply from the hydration packs they wear on top of 30-plus pounds of body armor.
Earlier this month, Gholston and the rest of the Oregon National Guard’s 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment fired their weapons at the Short Range Marksmanship range. While here they were only firing at targets, in two short months they could be shooting to save their lives.
The 90-degree New Jersey heat makes the training tough, as evidenced by the sweat pouring off the Guardsmen, but it’s nothing compared with the 130-degree days they will face once they arrive in Iraq later this summer.
At 52 years of age, Gholston stands out from his fellow soldiers, all of whom are in their 20s or 30s. His hair is several shades grayer and his face is more lined, but as the other soldiers take a short respite from the day’s training by sitting in the shade of a tree, Gholston remains standing.
He goes from soldier to soldier asking them how they did on the range. He offers words of congratulations to those who shot well and words of encouragement to those who did not.
Iraq will not be Gholston’s first war experience. Many of his fellow Oregon soldiers had yet to be born when Gholston deployed to Vietnam in 1975. Gholston was sent to Vietnam with the U.S. Navy as a combat videographer, and he filmed the fall of Saigon and the evacuation of refugees from that war-torn country.
Thirty years after the Vietnam War, Gholston decided it was time to once again serve his country.
“We are at war, and by watching the news it became very apparent that troops were needed to support the war effort,” Gholston said. “I think going to Iraq is a chance of a lifetime. It’s the biggest story out there right now, and I feel privileged to be able to report on it.”
Going from Navy to Army, especially after taking a 15-year break in service, was not easy for the Portland, Ore., resident. He experienced many growing pains during the transition.
“It’s a totally different mindset between the Navy and Army,” Gholston explained. “In the Navy we just went out and did our job, but in the Army it’s about being a total soldier. You have to shoot and qualify on your weapons, do ruck marches and everything else that infantry soldiers do. I had that Navy mindset and plus I’m getting older, so I had to really train and focus to keep up.”
When Gholston first started with the 115th two years ago, his leadership didn’t know what to make of the new staff sergeant with no Army experience.
“He scared the hell out of us because of his lack of soldier skills” admitted 1st Sgt. Michael Cummings, the unit’s top noncommissioned officer. “We had to teach him how to shoot an M-16. He had never fired one before.”
Gholston’s first real test was a deployment to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
“New Orleans was a real eye-opener,” Gholston said. “My experience is with the Navy, but I was really submersed in the Army. We got the job done though. I shot over 18 hours of footage documenting the devastation and interviewing soldiers in the Oregon National Guard.”
After that “eye-opener,” Gholston applied himself to becoming a good soldier and good NCO. He started working out every day, doing push-ups, sit-ups and running. He also took every Army class he could, successfully graduating the two phases of the Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course, both of which are two weeks in length, and then completed the monthlong Warrior Training Course. During this time, he lost 25 pounds and honed his soldier skills.