Face of Defense: Third-generation Paratrooper Deploys
By Army Spc. Michael J. MacLeod
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP RAMADI, Iraq, Dec. 22, 2009 In the dew-laden predawn darkness of June 6, 1944, Everton Bushnell jumped into Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, with the two-year-old 82nd Airborne Division. Twenty-five years later, his son, Ellsworth Bushnell, fought with the “All Americans” in Vietnam and spent six months as a prisoner of war.
Army Sgt. 1st Class John Bushnell, deployed to Camp Ramadi, Iraq, represents the third generation of his family to serve in combat with the 82nd Airborne Division. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
And in September of this year, Army Sgt. 1st Class John Bushnell became the third generation of Bushnells to wear the All American patch to a war zone when he deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade.
For the military intelligence electronic repair specialist, it has been the golden chalice of his 13-year Army career. Its attainment marked the fulfillment of a family tradition that at times seemed like the prize of an Indiana Jones saga.
Bushnell knows what it’s like to part of a small unit, cut off from the main body.
“It’s called recruiting,” he joked.
“Where I spent the last 45 months on recruiting duty, most people had never seen an active-duty soldier in their lives. In the Army, they teach you how to work with people during seven weeks of recruiting training, but when you get out there on your own and are no longer surrounded by other soldiers, it’s completely different,” he said.
Bushnell proved to be an exceptional recruiter, earning his gold badge and recruiting ring while bringing an average of 5.6 new soldiers into the Army every month, nearly three times the standard of two. Yet, having deployed as a paratrooper with the 1st Corps Support Command to Iraq in 2003-04, the four hours of daily “cold calling” from a recruiting office left him unfulfilled.
Most of Bushnell’s complaining about wanting to deploy again fell on the kindred ears of other recruiters. But one day, a man standing in a Canton, Ohio, unemployment office overheard his bellyaching to be deployed again. The man turned out to be then-U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine. Three months later, Bushnell received a flag that had been flown over the Capitol and a letter from DeWine thanking him for his service. But no orders off the recruiting outpost.
What he did enjoy as a recruiter was the visits by local veterans. One day, he recalled, an older man came into his office asking for a couple of key chains. The Army-branded merchandise was supposed to be given to high school students, but Bushnell saved much of it for the vets.
“Are you a veteran, sir?” Bushnell asked.
“Yeah, I was in Vietnam. I was infantry,” said the man, a Mr. Luco. He was also part of the veteran biker group, Rolling Thunder. Bushnell gave him the key chains and thanked him for his service.
“No, thank you for what you all are doing,” Luco replied. “It’s much harder than what we did.”
“No sir, I wouldn’t be in this uniform if it weren’t for what your generation did,” Bushnell told the man. “We’ve just picked up where you guys left off.”
Then the vet told Bushnell a story. His grandfather had given his father a silver dollar to carry for luck in the Korean War. His father passed that same coin to him before he shipped to Vietnam. One night, Luco said, the Viet Cong encamped around his unit, pinning the soldiers in a swamp for two and a half weeks. He rubbed that coin the entire time, he said.
Bushnell loaded Luco down with T-shirts, coffee mugs and other promotional items, nearly bringing the man to tears.
“This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me,” the man swore.
Two hours later, Luco reappeared, this time dressed in his biker’s garb. “I just wanted you to see how we dressed, and to thank you again,” he said, but when he shook Bushnell’s hand, he passed off that silver-dollar coin.
“It took every bit of discipline that I had not to break down in that office,” Bushnell said.
The first time he was “coined,” Bushnell was a young specialist. His children were conducting airborne operations from the back of the family van in the post exchange parking lot on Fort Bragg, N.C.
Army Lt. Gen. Dan McNeil, commander of 18th Airborne Corps, suddenly appeared. “Tell me, specialist,” he asked Bushnell, “do these young paratroopers plan to join the Army?”
Bushnell hadn’t joined the army himself until the age of 27. Raised on a 300-acre farm, he followed the rodeo circuit for a while after high school. Eventually, he married his high school sweetheart, Jenni, and took up trucking. In 1993, he heard the call to serve.
After basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., he served in South Korea, Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Bragg, though with the 20th Engineering Brigade and 1st Corps Support Command – never with the 82nd. In spite of his constant pleading, the family tradition seemed to elude him.
For his indefinite re-enlistment – the one obligating his service to retirement – Bushnell traveled to his hometown of Tallmadge, Ohio, named for Revolutionary War Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge. While on recruiting duty, Bushnell was asked to present a new memorial in his hometown square to those who had fallen in combat since the Revolutionary War. It was a pivotal moment.
“I told them, I don’t want a bonus. Just get me to [the 82nd],” he said.
In August 2009, Bushnell pinned on the rank of sergeant first class as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.
“It was a proud moment,” he said, “but what I remember most was putting the AA patch on my shoulder in 82nd Replacement in the Hall of Heroes. Holy cow,” I remember thinking, “I am finally here.”
Don’t unpack, they told him. In his career specialty of repairing anything that receives, transmits or stores top-secret information, there were only two open slots in the entire Army for his new pay grade. More than likely, before the current deployment is over, Bushnell will receive orders to Fort Huachuca, Ariz. In the meantime, he will serve here as a platoon sergeant with Company B, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion.
“I always wanted [a specialty] with top-secret clearance that would give me a bigger picture of the Army,” Bushnell said. The downside is that his rank and job restrict where he is useful to the Army. Most of the Army’s intelligence equipment is covered under warranty should it break down, he said.
Bushnell’s time with the 82nd will be but a brief intersection. His time in service is greater than his grandfather’s and father’s combined; neither spent more than a few years with the division or the Army. To wear the patch and to serve, and to be a part of the All American heritage, always was his goal.
“Was coming to the 82nd a good move career-wise?” he asked. “I don’t know. But yes, it’s been worth the fight to get here. For the family tradition, for my personal motivation, to just be a part of the greatest Army division in the world – it fulfills a longstanding dream.”
Stay tuned for more Bushnell paratroopers. The kids are approaching recruitment age.
(Army Spc. Michael J. MacLeod serves in the Multinational Force West with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade public affairs office.)