John Hawkins of Elkin counts his blessings each day, and his bullets.
Hawkins is a individual defense (or security contractor) providing unique services to the Department of Defense. Services typically include supporting military or civilian operations during times of war, weaponry, and electronic systems. It includes logistics, technical support and training, communications support, and in some cases team-based engineering in cooperation with the government.
While much of the information pertaining to Hawkins’ exact details should and will stay confidential, The Tribune had a brief moment to interview the 26-year military soldier.
According to Hawkins, he was raised in a family strongly connected to this nation and the military.
“I was raised with God, country, and the military,” said the 48-year old soldier. “I went to Appalachian for college directly out of high school. I wanted to go straight into the military, but my father put a stop to that. He wanted me to get a solid education, and after I finished college I enlisted in the U.S. Army.”
As a college graduate entering the military, Hawkins had options. He admitted to The Tribune that he opted not to go the officer route. Instead, he stuck with the nuts and bolts of soldier tradition rising through the ranks of the institution. Today, Hawkins is a 1st Sergeant for the Army National Guard.
Hawkins relocated to Elkin 20 years ago. Here, he found the opportunity working for the old Candle Corporation of America. Though he reminisced on his days of employment at the candle company, his biggest reflection was that of his bride, Rebecca.
“We met in Elkin,” said Hawkins. “Everything else fell into place. The rest is history.”
Hawkins stayed in Elkin with his family, raising his four kids, Dillon, Jetta, Zach, Emma.
In 2004, Hawkins departed Elkin to serve in Baghdad as a platoon sergeant.
“I was scouting, handling long range camera surveillance, and other vital technical matters pertaining to the unit,” said Hawkins. “It was tough being away from my family, but we were at war.”
In one of his deployments in 2010, Hawkins was shipped to Tikrit, Iraq - the hometown of deposed Saddam Hussein - where Hawkins said he was “an electronic warfare officer concentrating on enemy radio chatter.”
Hawkins returned to Elkin in December of 2010, but he struggled to to find work locally and had to take jobs out of state.
“I couldn’t find anything,” said Hawkins. “It’s tough for soldiers who are gone for so long and try to come home and find work. You’ve taken care of the country, but you have to take care of your family too.”
A somber sounding Hawkins stressed the importance of finding soldiers returning home from war to have good paying jobs.
Defense contracting has expanded dramatically over the last decade, where in the last fiscal year the Department of Defense spent nearly $316 billion on contracts.
In March of 2011 Hawkins jumped on the opportunity offered by the Department of Defense, an individual contract, but he needed to once again put his life at risk. Hawkins noted that contractors have assumed a much larger on-the-ground presence during American conflicts.
“I applied for the job because I knew I was qualified not only with the necessary skill set, but was able to meet the objective while staying safe at the same time,” Hawkins told The Tribune.
According to a spokesperson at the Brookings Institution, private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions, in Afghanistan, the presence of almost 100,000 contractors has resulted in a near 1 to 1 ratio with military personnel.
Although Hawkins admits working as a contractor is more lucrative compared to what he can receive at a local company, he feels “it’s a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain.”
Hawkins stated that he would like to accumulate as much money as possible, which would place him in the best position to take care of his family, but he is open to finding local work too.
“Working for Pittsburgh Glass Works would be great,” said Hawkins. “We’ll see, though.”
In the meanwhile, the soldiers wife Rebecca moves forward trying to build her small business, Rebecca’s Cakes and Images.
But that’s another story.
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at the Tribune by calling 835-1513 or email at email@example.com.