FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Soldiers react to adversity in many ways. Some panic. Some just grin and bear it.
Spc. Sean Reed of the 366th Military Police Company has his own method - he laughs.
"Whenever life gets really, stupid hard, I’ll just look over at a buddy, we’ll both be sucking air...and all of a sudden we just start laughing at each other," said Reed.
The 29 year-old Shawnee, Oklahoma, native wanted to be a professional football player "since the third grade." An Offensive Lineman (Center), he played one season at NCAA Division II East Central University in 2010, but suffered a career-ending shoulder injury during the team's spring camp preparing for his sophomore season.
"It was the last day of camp, I didn't have any pads on, and we were doing pass sets," he said. "I snapped the ball, took a couple steps back, and jammed the [opposing player] in the chest. I had my shoulder flexed, and he pushed it up while it was still flexed, and [my shoulder] just went the wrong way. There was a very audible pop," he said with a chuckle.
He had torn his labrum in two places and pulled the bone right out of its socket in his right shoulder.
"They tried to salvage it. They had me doing ice and [stimulation] every day, which I hated," he said. "It's freezing cold and half your body's twitching from the shocks going through. I couldn't stand it."
Reed then opted to get surgery, and accepted his football career was over.
This unfortunately meant his NCAA Division II partial scholarship for football was gone, and Reed was left to finance his education on his own. Over the next four years, he worked various part-time jobs to pay for a few scattered college courses.
Meanwhile, his older brother, Brian, 35, commissioned as a Chemical Officer in the U.S. Army in 2012. This prompted Reed to explore opportunities in the Army.
"I figured, well ... now that sports isn't paying for my school, and I can't find a job that pays well enough to put me through school while also attending school...I'll just join the Army. My brother seems to enjoy it pretty much," he said.
Grinning ear to ear, Reed acknowledged that his brother is "a little more brains" than him, but he too wanted to find challenge and meaning in his Army profession.
"My brother and I are not the same person. I think I scored like an 80 on the ASVAB [Army Services Vocational Aptitude Battery], and he scored like a 99...he's one of those guys," he said, laughing. "But I was thinking, ya know, if I'm gonna join the Army, I really want to do something."
Reed was about to select an infantry position until he found out about calvary scouts.
"It seemed like a more high-speed infantry. At the time, I thought, ‘I'd be really proud of myself if I was able to get through Fort Benning and do the things in the cavalry world that they expected of me,’" he said.
Getting through basic training in spring-through-summer 2014 at Fort Benning, Georgia, was just the challenge he had been yearning for. He soon discovered how the Army forges bonds between fellow Soldiers the same way football bonds teammates.
"You get in tight-knit relationships with people in the Army, because you're forced to be around them all the time. You get to know everything about them," he said. "It's just like with football in college ... you go through three-a-days with these guys - you don't know any of them going in, and they're from all over the country. But then you have to just go through all this stuff with 'em ... and you just make the best of it."
Reed said he will never forget one particular moment at basic training he shared with a Soldier from New Jersey who he still considers one of his best friends to this day.
"We'd had an awful day...been drug through the dirt since about two o'clock that morning, and we finally got a little pause in the day to eat chow. It's sunny, 100 degrees, 90-percent humidity...we're walking up in line with our trays to get our food, and it just starts pouring rain," he laughed. "By the time we get our lunch and sit back down, all our containers and plates of food are just filled with water. And we look at each other and just start laughing...like, 'Yeah, ... this is life right now.'"
After basic training, Reed spent six years with the cavalry scouts. He particularly enjoyed house-clearing drills, classes on camouflage and sleeping in the woods — sometimes for up to a month at a time.
“I was so happy when I started my career in the military. I was doing all this high-speed stuff,” he said. “The only downfall was, I just kept thinking, ‘I can start school back up again next semester.’”
Reed regrets not taking advantage of the Army’s education benefits sooner, but in the meantime, he was at least filling his resume for a future civilian career.
“When I would go on any job interview before I enlisted, all I could say was, ‘I’m currently going to school, and I played college football.’ That was all I had,” he said. “Now I’m able to fill out an entire rap sheet of stuff I’ve done just from the Army.”
Having decided a few years ago that he wanted a career in law enforcement, he has noticed a military background gives him a leg-up.
“There’s going to be people that are your bosses or that are interviewing you that have been in the military,” he said. “And when they see you’ve been in the Army, they know that you can be fun and professional. That tells them you’re the kind of person they can hang out with outside of the job and have fun, but that you’re also capable of tightening up and doing your job when you need to.”
About a year ago, Reed took a pause with the cavalry scouts and joined his current U.S. Army Reserve military police unit. His work with the Army Reserve involves relevant law enforcement experience to aid his future civilian career; plus, he is taking advantage of extra training courses offered by the Army Reserve. Reed is also just two semesters from earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Oklahoma State University.
“I’m pretty happy with how things turned out,” he said. “I’m about to finish my degree all paid for, and I’m in a good position to land a good law enforcement job on the civilian side.”
Reed also completes his initial eight-year enlistment contract next year and is excited to re-enlist and start fresh. Thus far, he considers his Army experience a "win-win."
"When I consider what the Army has done for me...I mean, school paid for, so many outlets and opportunities on the civilian side, the networking...you can't beat it," he said. "Plus, you can't have this much fun while working anywhere else. Yeah, there'll be times that suck. But those times just make the good times better."
If all else fails, he can always just laugh.