FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. –
Growing up, Spc. Joseph Cannon, a 41-year-old Reserve trainee assigned to Company D, 787th Military Police Battalion, always wanted to serve in the military — it just took him a little longer than most.
“My grandfather was in WWII,” he said. “A lot of my uncles were in the military as well. I wanted to join when I was younger, but I was married with two sons by the time I was 21 years old. I didn’t want to leave home for an extended amount of time. I wanted to be around to raise my kids.”
After deciding to put the Army on the back burner, Cannon — who grew up in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma — finished his college degree and became a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“I wanted to chase bad guys at the federal level — Drug Enforcement Administration or Federal Bureau of Investigation,” he said. “However, when I called the FBI to apply, they said I needed at least a couple of years of experience in local law enforcement.”
So, Cannon applied for and accepted a patrol officer position with the Tulsa Police Department. After four years on patrol in a part of town “with the highest crime rate — shootings, stabbings, gang activity, car chases, people running from us,” Cannon transferred to the Special Investigation Division, where he worked in a gang unit, an undercover vice and narcotics unit and the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force.
He currently works in a street crimes unit.
“Initially, it was a culture shock for me, being a small-town kid, but I fell in love with (the work,)” he said. “I like the fact that it’s different every day — it’s challenging.”
Cannon said joining the Army was always on his mind. His two oldest sons both joined the Army — Sgt. Ethan Cannon, his oldest, is in the Missouri National Guard and Pvt. Kaden Cannon began the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program this month at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“When Kaden signed for the Army last fall, I decided to as well,” he said.
The physical rigors of One Station Unit Training were less of a concern, Cannon said, than the months away from home.
“I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to working out,” he said. “So, physically, I wasn’t in fear. I mentally prepared myself as much as I thought I could for the isolation from family and friends.”
Cannon had a little assistance from his sons in preparing for training.
“They told me some of the things I would go through and I would have to deal with,” he said. “My oldest gave me advice for different aspects — for making your bed; how to use time management so you’re not falling behind; to never be the last one to do anything.”
There is at least one disadvantage to being a middle-aged trainee, Cannon said.
“There were some moments where I did feel my age,” he said. “Over the course of my life, if something was hurting — if something got tweaked or if something was sore — I could lay off of it for a while and let it heal. Here, you don’t have that opportunity. You just throw the ruck back on and go wherever you’re going the next day. So, I did notice it took a little bit of a toll — nothing major — stuff just didn’t heal up like it normally would.”
However, something Ethan specifically told him was not to quit.
“He said, ‘You can’t quit. I don’t care if you get hurt. There’s no quitting.’”
Cannon’s battle buddies are about his sons’ ages, but he said he found them to be very mature.
“My platoon got along really well and I think that helped me, because coming here, I didn’t know if I was going to be the outsider — being so old — but they have taken me in and I feel like we’re a really good team together,” he said.
Once Delta Company moved into the Advanced Individual Training part of OSUT, Cannon said his life experience came in handy.
“Once we got into the law enforcement block, I did get to share a few experiences in some of the classes,” he said. “I’ve also shared with the drill sergeants some of the stuff I’ve done.”
Having older trainees is not uncommon, said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Sutter, 2nd Platoon’s senior drill sergeant. But, 36-year-old Sutter also said it’s not often he trains someone older than him.
“It’s a little odd to call someone a trainee when they’re much older than you,” he said. “It was nice though because we knew he had experience in law enforcement.”
Sutter said there are many advantages to having older trainees mixed in with the young ones.
“The other trainees can look to him for guidance, especially when it comes to the AIT portion — learning the military police job — because he has experience in a lot of those police roles,” Sutter said. “But also, someone like Cannon, he can help guide the rest of the platoon into conforming to the Army Values — being a more squared away, mature individual.”
Despite his experience and maturity, one fairly odd thing about Cannon’s situation is that he now has a son who outranks him.
“We joked about it a little bit when Ethan picked me up to go home for (holiday block leave),” Cannon said. “We stopped to pump gas and I was standing at parade rest. He said, ‘Dad, you don’t have to do that.’”
Delta Company graduates from OSUT Jan. 14, and Cannon said he at least has one thing he can hold over both of his son’s heads.
“My (Army Combat Fitness Test) score was better,” he said. “Both of them shot better than me with the rifle though. Anything they can do better, they for sure rub that in my face.”