There's nothing unique about growing up in the Midwest when you consider summer days were spent playing Kick the Can and Hide and Seek, according to Mount Pleasant resident Scott Dempsey. His upbringing was typical. Like most kids in Miamisburg, Ohio he played in the high school band and competed on the swim team. He had two working parents Lois and John, and two sisters Sheri and Lori.
And that's why, after a short stint at Bowling Green State University in 1986, Dempsey headed to the recruiting office. "It was time to get the hell out of there," he said.
"None of my family had been in the military but I got it in my head that I was going to join the Army. I had a buddy that started telling me about the Navy recruiter who could get me in sooner and - I wouldn't have to run laps- so I went in."
"I just signed those papers. There was no looking back. I thought, 'now they're going to feed me, tell me where to be and what to wear.' You have someone always telling you what to do so it was a fairly easy existence," he said.
From boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill. to "A School" in Millington, Tenn. Dempsey eventually completed six months of Aviation Electronics training and four months in the VAW120 orientation to E2C Hawkeyes.
Before he knew it he was aboard the USS America as part of Squadron VAW 123 out of Norfolk, Va.
As an Aviation Electronics Technician (AT) he became an E3 and sailed the North Atlantic with his squadron assigned to the Carrier Air Wing. The Screwtops would be his family for the next two years. It was considered a regular deployment and a show of force.
"In times of peace the military is more important than in times of war," Dempsey explained. "A show of force is a deterrent and very necessary for preparedness in case of conflict. One would expect the powers that be to be smarter than average and talk their way out of a fight but you always have to be prepared," he said.
At the young age of 18, Dempsey became a Bluenose (sailing above the Arctic Circle) and by 21 years old was a Shellback, having sailed below the Equator.
But there were times when things were not so great. "Being in the Navy was like being in prison with a chance of drowning. There were times when I was just as miserable as the next guy. Military folks always talk about the good times. But 42 days straight at sea working 12 hour shifts on a flight deck wasn't all that great."
That's when he would tell himself that there were 6,000 other guys literally in the same boat and there was nothing to do but make the best of it. "Being in the same boat build's camaraderie," he said. "We're all working just as hard and going through the same stuff."
One day often ran into the next, with 6 a.m. wake-ups and reporting for duty at 7 a.m. Dempsey was a Box Swapper and the "eyes of the fleet." He loaded computer systems onto the plane itself and handled ground inspections, pre-flight inspections, and launch and recovery of the aircraft.
The shipmates didn't face much danger, but the flight deck did have two planes crash into it. And two were lost to illness and another to a fire.
His End of Active Obligated Services was April 1990, just two months before the Gulf War. He should have been called up, Dempsey said, but he never was. He was told, 'don't do anything until you hear from us. He was on the books for eight years but in 1995 he received his DD214 and a 'thank you' letter. "I wanted a family and kids and the Navy is a hard place to do that."
He had just gotten married and had enrolled in college. His experience and education landed him a job building and fixing computers. His career finally led him to printers and he owns his own company called www.charlestonprinterrepair.com.
In 2000 he and his wife moved to Mount Pleasant and he fell in love with the Lowcountry. He decided then and there that he was never leaving. But in 2001 his wife's job transferred them to Atlanta.
By 2002 he was divorced and back in Mount Pleasant. "There was no question I was moving back here," he said.
He looks back fondly on his tour of duty. "It provided me opportunity. I always thought college was where you matured. It was a chance to get out from under your parents. You were responsible for your own actions. I was wrong. You grow up and mature by joining the military. It's where it is all stick and no carrot."
Dempsey believes that all Americans should have to serve at least a year. "Most think it's about learning obedience, but the military is where you go to learn about honor and duty and you get a sense of what people go through everyday so you can have the right to your safe space and your free speech."
Advancements in technology have made life easier for the enlisted. When Dempsey served he kept in touch with his family by writing letters and sending them in the mail. Today soldiers Skype, email and Facetime. They get to see their kids grow up despite not physically being there. Dempsey remembers many sailors learning they had become fathers and having to wait six months before seeing their newborns. They of course, were the first ones allowed off of their ships once in port.
"Being in the Navy is an experience I wouldn't trade for the world. It was fantastic and sobering and a chance for me to realize there were other places in the world other than Miamisburg, Ohio. I got to see how big this world really is and how different people are based on how and where they grew up."
Dempsey encourages young folks to enlist. "It's an experience you will never regret. It's hard. It's fulfilling and worthwhile. You rely on others to keep their head on and they rely on you."
Dempsey said there are subtle, little things in life that bring you to where you're supposed to be. "Odds...what are they? It's really billions of decisions that had to be made to get you to that one place in life. In truth, it's a decision I made to join the military and I made the best of it."