Many have heard the phrase “serving your country”.
Some serve their country by doing nice and meaningful things that represent what it means to be an American, making their surroundings better because of the freedoms she brings.
But then there are those who sign a contract with America through one of her military branches. Their signature means that that person would give their life in service to this country and the freedoms she offers.
Say hello to Sergeant Josh Witherspoon of the United States Army.
He is the son of Jimmy and Michelle Witherspoon of Hope and a 2016 graduate of Hope High School.
What was it like to be a top athlete in high school?
“With my dad being a former NFL football player himself, I saw myself really progress, especially those last couple of years,” he began.
Witherspoon accepted a scholarship and spent the next two years at Henderson State battling on a football field, but his real battle was to be held near home tending to his ailing father.
“At that time, I was committed to Henderson and went there for roughly about two and one-half years” Josh continues.
“In the start of my fall semester of my Junior year, that’s when I had to drop out. My dad had cancer again so….” as Witherspoon’s voice trails silent.
“The start of my junior year was when he couldn’t do many things for himself, and it was rough on him getting to doctor’s appointments. Sadly, it started to affect my grades and it did take a toll on me mentally.
“Even though my dad wasn’t around very much when I was a kid, I knew everything he had been through in life and so we had just gotten close when things started to go bad with his health,” Witherspoon emotionally states.
These moves forward, then the setbacks and mental stresses, could take a toll on anyone. However, Witherspoon found motivation and took his game to another level.
“Directly after my father passed in 2019, my mom’s best friend had served a full 20 years in the Army. And, also my Dad’s best friend did a full 20 serving in three of the five branches,” Witherspoon states.
“My “Aunt Buffie”, which I call her, had a big role in getting me to join.
“She drove me to the recruiting office when I finally decided to get more information.”
So, in October 2019, Witherspoon signed up. And with it, giving up many of the daily luxuries we civilians take for granted. Witherspoon also was now employed with the ultimate service industry.
The serving your family, friends and country industry.
“When you are at basic training, you are technically a Private, but they are constantly letting you know that you are not a Private or a soldier yet but you are a trainee,” Witherspoon quickly recalls.
“I knew I wanted to be great at it,” he says. “I wasn’t concerned with being better than the next man. I wanted to be the best I could be inside and that’s it.
“I said then I would put my head down and work hard and do that every day until I graduated Basic.”
His efforts began to pay off and he got noticed.
“I was appointed to a few leadership positions while in Basic and surprisingly our Commander trusted me for a lot of different tasks. So, a Drill Sergeant would tell me this is what you’re going to do, and I had to get it done. But for a Drill Sergeant to do that was a risky move on their part, but for some reason they had that trust in me to get it done.”
Witherspoon could be trusted with leadership. And to him, leadership came naturally.
From Basic at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, it was on to Presidio of Monterey in California. After that he packed his gear for Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia before landing in his current home of Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Along the way, he also learned how to handle disappointments after just missing qualifying for a special Human Intelligence Collector’s “title” on an exam by one point. Twice.
Talk about a character builder getting over that.
“In 2021 I flew to Fort Gordon to start my training as a Signal Support Specialist,” Witherspoon states.
“My Drill Sergeant there had other plans for me after finding out I had been in the service a couple of years by then. So, I was made a Platoon Sergeant.”
“Along with going to class, I oversaw making sure the platoon knew where they needed to be at and when and what type of uniform to be in, etc. Whenever we had any information to be pushed out, I was the one responsible to get it to them.
“After about three weeks of that I was made the Student First Sergeant which meant I went from being in charge of about 30 people under me to 250.”
The military knows how to fill a soldier’s plate mighty full and fast.
Witherspoon was the example of what a soldier was expected to look and act like while imparting his knowledge and confident leadership to keep the large group of soldiers sharp. It was that leadership quality that followed him from High School.
“I told myself in the military that I’d been in those situations before. It’s different now but I applied something I knew and if it didn’t work out, to go on to something different.
“I did that for five months and received an Army Achievement Medal right before I found out I would be going to Fort Wainwright here in Fairbanks, Alaska.”
Yes readers, that Alaska. Home to harsh weather conditions and dark daytimes. What was waiting for him?
“A whole lot of cold, I can tell you that,” he says with a laugh. “I had no idea what to expect. I’d been in the Army for two years, but it had all been with training units. I walked in open-minded and was just ready to learn.
“I got here and was promoted to Specialist right away as I had reached the qualification time from Private and then Private First Class.
“I was originally tasked to work with radios and communication security. However, they were low manned on the other side of our office that focused on computers and networking.”
“I was cross-trained in both which I can really appreciate because now I am the only person in my battalion that works with the phones that are handed out to higher-ranked people. We have a contract with a phone provider, and I configure the entire phone, personalize it just for each individual. Then they can access more information than they normally could or would have needed a computer.”
“It makes it a lot easier on them. It puts a lot of work on me but overall it makes it easier on us to make it more efficient for us to complete our mission.”
It falls under the “One for all” mentality.
“I’m also radio maintenance for all aspects of the military radios and how to use them. There’s a science to it and I would be considered an expert for it all. Plus, I do all the paperwork for all the communications security.”
“I was just promoted to Sargent, which to make it simpler, is like a manager. You are a mentor, teacher and coach.
I really enjoy that aspect because I like making people better. I’m now officially in a role where that is a part of my job,” Witherspoon concludes.
This young man’s military accomplishments simply illuminate Witherspoon’s desire to better himself while bettering others around him.
“While I was still at Fort Gordon, I received my German Armed Forces Proficiencies badge that is only issued by the German military which we had stationed there. I was very proud to receive that badge.
“I was awarded an Expert Soldier Badge here at Fort Wainwright last summer. It was special but at the time I was training to join special forces and I didn’t want to have receiving the badge to distract me from my goal of Special Forces.
His tryout was hindered by an injury, and he didn’t achieve his objective of Special Forces, but he was not discouraged.
So, has the military made Witherspoon a better man? I think we know the answer.
“Without a doubt,” he exclaims. “Before I joined, I was really closed off from what the world really is like. And once you realize, it changes you. But there’s just something in me that is going to make me put my best foot forward. No matter what I do.
“I do have a long-term plan with the Army. I know I’m serving my country and I know I’m doing something good. I want to protect the people of this country. I want to make a positive change in this world while I’m here.”
Josh Witherspoon is the example of making himself a better person while improving all those within his sphere of influence.
If one were to multiply Sergeant Witherspoon and his personal character by the thousands, our grateful country is in good hands.
There’s only one Josh Witherspoon and he remains “ours”.
A grateful son from Hope.