Local soldiers return home to talk shop at York Fair

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
From left: Spc. Austin G. Barnett, 22, of Wrightsville; Sgt. Stephen J. Caskey, 30, of Spring Grove; Spc. Matthew A. Peters, 22, of York City; Cpl. Christopher S. Winters, 29, of York City; and Spc. Tristan G. Seiple-Kinard, 20, of Spring Garden Township pose for a photo in front of the U.S. Army Recruiting Center in Manchester Township on Wednesday, Sept. 5. The men, who are all active duty military, will be available to chat and answer questions about the Army at the York Fair from 1 to 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 7–Sunday, Sept. 16.

Ask the average person what it's like to serve in the Army, and you might hear something like this:

Everyone in the Army goes to war, soldiers don't get any personal time off, and wages are low. 

Cpl. Christopher S. Winters, 29, of York City, said that just isn't true.

"A lot of people I talk to have this idea in their head that we can’t leave the facility, we can’t leave the base," he said, adding that soldiers get paid holidays and weekends off like everybody else. 

Winters is on a 30-day assignment in York County, along with four other active-duty soldiers from the area, to talk with folks about what it's really like to serve in the Army and clear up the most common misconceptions they hear.

The men are available to answer questions from 1 to 7 p.m.  through Sunday, Sept. 16 at the York Fair. 

The other soldiers are Sgt. Stephen J. Caskey, 30, of Spring Grove; Spc. Austin G. Barnett, 22, of Wrightsville; Spc. Matthew A. Peters, 22, of York City; and Spc. Tristan G. Seiple-Kinard, 20, of Spring Garden Township.

Among the five, the jobs are varied.

Caskey is a welder and machinist stationed in Fort Drum, New York; Peters is an information technology specialist stationed in Okinawa, Japan; and Barnett is a wheeled vehicle mechanic stationed in Fort Gordon, Georgia.

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Seiple-Kinard is the only infantryman in the group.  Winters, a heavy equipment maintainer, also is training to become a nurse. Both are part of the 82nd Airborne Division, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Sgt. 1st Class Oliver J. Charleston, reserve recruiter at the U.S. Army Recruiting Center in Manchester Township, said that in his interactions with students, educators and other civilians, he realized the prevailing ideas about military service are outdated.

"Back 40 years ago, you could go in the Army without a high school diploma," Charleston said, but that's not the case anymore.

A high school diploma is required to enlist for active duty, and the minimum of a GED  is required for the reserves.

Another misconception is that if a high school senior enlists and is officially sworn in, he or she can skate through the rest of the year without worrying about grades.

Not so, Charleston said. Once they’re in the Army, the military is part of the education team those students will see on a daily basis.

“We’re going to see the (guidance) counselor often, we’re going to see the staff quite often,” Charleston said. “If they get a report card or some sort of progress report, we need to see it.”

Winters said people hear about an Army salary of $1,200 per month and think it's outrageously low, without taking into consideration  that the military is paying for their housing, food, transportation, schooling, clothing and other expenses.

The benefit list is long, but the soldiers said leaving their families during deployment is the most difficult part of the job.

Caskey, who's been in the Army for 12 years, served in Afghanistan for 15 months in 2009-10. He said goodbye to his wife and 2-month-old son and didn't see them again until the boy was toddling around on his own.

Caskey said “having to watch your kid grow up over pictures” is the hardest thing about being away.

Barnett, whose father served six tours in the Army, said his family's life changed after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"That’s when Army life really started," he said. "Constant moving, (and) not much downtime."

A few of the men plan to stay in the Army until they've reached 20 years of service. Seiple-Kinard, who's served two years, plans to stay for another two years before pursuing a career as a U.S. Marshal. 

Winters summarized a common sentiment among the men: He's proud of his job and proud of the purpose behind it.

"We all join,"  Winters said. "We all do the job for the country that we’re living in."