By Army 1st Lt. Christopher Gregg
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 27, 2009 - Not long ago, Army Pfc. Paul Henry was a car salesman in Marion, Ill., a divorced father of two children who was looking for something different in his life. So he decided to enlist in the Army. "It's something I've always wanted to do," Henry said. "When I quit selling cars, I wanted to give back to society."
Henry had worked as a district manager for a restaurant chain, and then switched careers and became a car salesman. His military career began in January 2008, when he visited the recruiter in Marion and enlisted for three years as a motor transport operator.
Henry, 42, was one of the oldest recruits at the entrance processing station and had to prove himself through tests that were 30 percent more physically demanding than those designated for younger soldiers. He was the only one of 12 men to pass all the tests administered.
"Everyone was giving me high fives and congratulating me. That's when I knew I could make it," he said.
After basic training, Henry was assigned in June 2008 to Fort Riley, Kan., with the general supply section of the 1st Infantry Division's 299th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment. The unit has a mission some might describe as monotonous, but work doesn't get boring for many with Henry around, according to Army Pfc. Heinrich Felgar, who hails from Moline, Ill. Henry's contagious smile, sense of humor, and a shout of "Hey, great to see you!" always keep people laughing, Felgar said.
"He's more motivated than a lot of people, although he's sometimes twice their age," added Felgar, who at 23 is one of the youngest soldiers in the platoon. "No matter what you ask of him, he's always positive."
However, what strikes his fellow soldiers about Henry is his positive attitude and his excitement about the Army, though he admits he had some initial nervousness to shake out at first.
"I'm 42 years old, and will be 43 in August," he said. "I had no idea what the Army was about. I went to the recruiter's office and had no idea what to expect. Yeah, I was absolutely nervous, but it is great to know we have great people who are more than willing to help."
Henry joined the Army to be a motor transport operator, but he assists in running the ammunition yard at Forward Operating Base Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, where he has been deployed since October 2008.
Driving a truck is never out of the question though, as he has supported Echo Company during combat logistic patrols by driving a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle and other Army vehicles.
"I help transport food, supplies, and ammo," Henry said. "We make things go from Point A to Point B. We make things happen."
Henry may not be the youngest soldier on the battlefield, but that doesn't mean that he decided to join the Army as a transitional job before looking for another profession. He said he's taken so well to the Army that he plans on re-enlisting and would like to remain in the Army for 20 years.
"The best part of my job is meeting everyone from different backgrounds," he said. "That's what makes it fun -- just getting to know them and learn from them. It's a privilege to be here."
"Henry is the uplift of the company," said Army Capt. Hector Vazquez, who hails from Bronx, N.Y., and commands Company E. "His enthusiasm, motivation and positive attitude are unparalleled."
Henry's unit remains deployed in Iraq, partnered with the 17th Iraqi Army Division. The unit's mission is to train the Iraqi army for self-reliance and to protect the Iraqi people.
"Every day I feel honored to be here. It's great," Henry said.
(Army 1st Lt. Christopher Gregg serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)