As we mark the Independence Day holiday, it’s an important time to remember the honorable service of our nation’s active duty and reserve service members, and our veterans. More than 10,000 veterans are on our team at USDA – and still more are currently serving in National Guard and Reserve units around the country. The Ohio Rural Development office recently shared stories of two employees currently serving.
For many USDA employees, “moonlighting” means late nights on the tractor or in the barn. It’s hard work that offers great personal reward. Likewise, two Ohio Rural Development team members recently undertook a special kind of second job: one that, a little like farming, entails great discipline and family sacrifice.
“I joined the Ohio Air National Guard as a way to pay for college,” said USDA State Engineer Matthew McCoppin during a recent interview. “I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps. He had nothing but good things to say about it.” McCoppin, who grew up in southwest Ohio, hails from a long line of veterans. His grandfather fought in World War I, his uncles in World War II, and his dad was drafted during the Korean conflict. He’s an aircraft maintenance officer for the KC-135 Stratotanker – an aerial refueling aircraft that’s been in service since his dad wore the uniform in the 1950s. Matt returned from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in April.
Matt shared some impressive statistics about his time overseas: during the three month deployment, his unit partook of more than 1,000 missions supplying 54 million pounds of fuel to receiving aircraft. “This easily is the most responsibility I’ve ever had to shoulder,” said McCoppin, who was the ranking officer for 280 personnel. “I have three little kids – and that’s a lot of responsibility! But this was different: it was definitely intense. You find out a lot about yourself, and you find out how terribly homesick you can get for your children.” Matt has completed several overseas deployments over the past 22 years, but he says this deployment was a life-changer.
Marietta, Ohio USDA Area Director Michael Rutherford’s recent tour of duty was a bit different from Matt’s. When most folks think of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, they think of the infamous federal penitentiary. But as a June graduate of the Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) U.S. Navy (Reserve) Lt. Cmdr. Rutherford has a unique take on the historic Army post. For Mike, his time at Fort Leavenworth was all about relearning how to study.
“I wasn’t used to the idea of kicking back into academia,” laughed Rutherford. “I went from being a dad and working in an office every day to staying up until 1 a.m. tackling 120 pages of reading every night. It took me a while to adjust.” For most mid-career officers, CGSC is undertaken as a distance learning course. However, a very select few –Mike among them – are tapped for “resident CGSC,” which means they move to Kansas for 10 months. The work is intense.
“CGSC helped me with my critical thinking skills and thinking out-of-the-box,” said Rutherford. “On the personal side, the last six weeks of the program were a little lighter with electives, so I got to spend more time with my daughter.” Mike noted with interest that, in addition to uniformed service members, there also were a handful from federal agencies including USDA. He’s grateful for the experience but happy to be back among friends and family in southeast Ohio’s rolling hills. At USDA, we’re grateful for the service of all members of the Armed Services – and wish all Americans a safe and happy Independence Day.
To learn more about the history behind Independence Day, click here.