FORT SILL, OK (RNN Texoma) - Fort Sill’s oldest basic trainee will graduate Friday after 9 1/2 weeks of grueling training. It’s a second chance for Specialist John Swanson to complete his service and retire after having served 10 years in the U.S. Navy.
“I’m 49-years-old in the U.S. Army, what else is there, you know?," said Specialist John Swanson.
Swanson’s military career began in 1987 when he enlisted in the Navy at just 18, with nowhere to go as a ward of the state of Minnesota. He said it forever changed his life.
“I can say that without the military, I would have been a statistic, dead, in prison, or on drugs," he said.
Swanson was a naval hospital corpsman, serving during Desert Storm with the Marine Corp Infantry Unit. In 1997, he was released from active duty.
“After every conflict, they usually draw down the military with budget constraints, I was part of that," said Swanson. "I didn’t have a choice, so I had to live life and was pissed off for a long time.”
Swanson took that anger and turned it in to fire, signing up for the National Guard to finish what he started and eventually retire. He chose the Army and came to Fort Sill surrounded by others half his age.
“Day 0 sucked," he said. "I wasn’t expecting what I got. I was expecting a little more ease due to my age and prior service, but no, it didn’t happen.”
Swanson and the 200 other trainees were the first on Fort Sill to complete a brand new point of instruction, implemented October 1 by the Chief of Staff of the Army. Dubbed the ‘Forge’, it includes tactical marches with ruck sacks totaling 45 miles in four days. Swanson said training has changed dramatically since his naval service.
“Instructors had leeway physically to get you to understand what they were getting at," said Swanson. "They can’t do that now at all.”
Despite their age differences, Swanson said he learned from his fellow trainees and offered some wisdom in return.
“I learned to appreciate small moments of downtime with them,” Swanson said.
Basic trainee Sam Wilcox shared what he learned from Swanson.
“A good piece of advice he gave, was to not stop and fulfill your dreams," Wilcox said. "He came back to finish what he started years ago, but he never gave up. It inspired my to go back and get my teaching degree.”
Swanson reminds anyone out there with dreams that seem beyond reach, if you want it bad enough you’ll get it, regardless of your age.
“You’ll find a way to do what it is you wanna do," Swanson said. "Pain lets you know your alive and age is just a number.”
After graduating from basic training, Swanson will go back to Minnesota to work at the Minneapolis VA hospital where his patients are waiting his return.
“I did it," he said. "I did it. I’ll see you guys at Christmas.”
Specialist Swanson has nine years and six months left until he can retire. He’ll be 60-years-old.