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Virginia National Guard member scratches the itch to serve after eight-year break

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell | U.S. Army | Feb. 23, 2012

FORT PICKETT, Va. - Standing on the edge looking down with nothing to stop them from hitting the ground but the rope between their legs - a group of Canadian troops training with Virginia National Guard members - waited, anticipating for the command to begin their first experience in rappelling.

"The rope closest to you is going to the ground," said Virginia National Guard member Army Staff Sgt. William Dalton. "That's where you're going."

A nervous Canadian troop chuckled and slowly tipped over the edge of the tower and disappeared.

"Brake; throw that hand out! Good," Dalton screamed.

Dalton and his fellow Virginia National Guard instructors from 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, taught rappelling to Canadian army troops from the 36th Canadian Brigade Group out of Nova Scotia, Canada, at Fort Pickett, Va., Feb. 21.

For Dalton, this job was made for him. He said he thrives on teaching and learning, so it's a natural fit being an instructor.

"I take pride in what I do and want to give my best," he said. "I love serving. I love our country. I'm very patriotic and I love what I do. I love the camaraderie with the Guard soldiers."

The tempo is fast-paced up on the rappelling tower and several dozen Canadian troops hook up and jump off the tower in a matter of minutes.

"Sound off with your brake hand," yelled Dalton.

"Right hand," echoed a young Canadian soldier.

Dalton checks the young troop's harness one final time and passes him to another instructor. Every piece is choreographed with patience, practice and teamwork.

Dalton said the camaraderie and teamwork he loves so much - he is enjoying so much more, now that he recently rejoined the Army after an eight-year break in service.

After serving 14-years in the infantry and becoming a platoon sergeant, he decided to get out of the Army because he was a single father.

"Raising my daughter by myself, I wasn't sure what would happen to her if I deployed," said Dalton, now almost 43-years-old. "I could be replaced as a platoon sergeant, but I could never be replaced as a father to my daughter."

After taking time to raise his daughter and watch her leave the house, he still had that Army itch to scratch.

He stayed disciplined by training in martial arts and becoming a preacher, but said he continually thought about finishing up his military commitment.

"I took a reduction in rank to come back in and that was humbling," he said. "But I offer what I can and am willing to learn what I can."

Army First Sgt. Matthew Webster, assigned to Headquarters, Headquarters Detachment, 183rd Regional Training Institute, said that Dalton's attitude about rejoining the Army was impressive.

"He took a reduction to come back in and he was willing to do it," Webster said. "Nobody held it against him. He's hanging well with the younger Soldiers here ... since he's been here before, they look to him for a little bit of guidance about how things are actually run here."

"Lane one on rappel," yells a motivated young Canadian troop leaning over the top of the tower.

"Lane one on belay," echoes another Canadian troop holding the ropes at the bottom of the tower.

"This is morale building and sort of adventure training to build esprit de corps between people," Webster said. "It builds a lot of character."

Being in the military builds a lot of character and Dalton is chock-full of it.

"It's a matter of, ya know, doing everything right," he said. "You hook everybody up correctly and give them the right instructions.

"But sometimes when they're in a situation where it's something new, like when they're on a tower high off the ground, they have to perform."

Dalton said he tries to be humble, take pride in what he does and give it his best.

After eight years, Dalton can't help but think of his first go around - climbing up the tower many years ago and jumping off to safety. Now, he's back on the top of the tower helping others jump off where he left off.