“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be in the U.S. Army,” says James Stender, Sergeant First Class, retired.
Like James, plenty of children think about joining the military when they grow up. However, upon becoming adults, less than one-half of one percent of the U.S. population enlists. Yet, in 1967, a young James did just that.
First stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, he began an enduring military career that would see him all the way from the rank of Private to Sergeant First Class. When he got started at Fort Bliss, James trained on a vehicle that he would often use in his later career: The history-making M42 Duster—a twin 40mm gun tank known for its rapid, tremendous firepower.
The “Duster” Tank—Not Just Fearsome, but also Loud
“My unit was stationed in Okinawa,” says James. “The minute Russian planes made their way into our airspace, we’d go on alert and get ready to encounter them if needed. Having the batteries ready would normally be enough to deter them, but they were always trying to see how far they could get without a response—shooting at them was always an option, though it was a last resort. We also continually practiced shooting at drones. At 240 rounds per minute, it didn’t take long to down one.”
So powerful were the Dusters that the Viet Cong called them “Fire Dragons”—largely, according to ArmyHistory.org, “because their high volume of fire and tracer ammunition gave the appearance of a dragon’s breath.” And not only were they a fearsome sight, but they were also loud.
“They had an open turret,” says James. “So, we were right alongside the guns.”
It was in this vehicle, repeatedly exposed to the sound of gunfire, where James developed hearing loss. Over time, this injury would result in a permanent hearing disability, but that wouldn’t stop him from continuing to serve. James continued his military career after his time in Japan. Returning to Fort Ord in the United States, he served as a drill sergeant and a training Noncommissioned Officer in Charge until, amid base closures and cutbacks, he retired from the military in 1992. As a civilian, he worked as the manager of a body shop and at a Chevrolet dealership until the economic downturn of 2008 prompted layoffs, and he found himself unemployed.
After Hearing Loss, Serendipity Brings James to PRIDE Industries
“It was serendipitous timing,” says James. “While job hunting, I saw a sign for PRIDE Industries. I just walked in and handed the receptionist my résumé. It turned out they needed someone with managerial skills, so I was interviewed and hired on the spot.”
On November 17, 2010, James was hired as a rehabilitation specialist working in our Fairfield, Calif. location. Since then, he has been promoted three times and is now the custodial supervisor for the entire U.S. Forestry contract at Mare Island in Vallejo, Calif.
A Personable Leader
Leading by example, James has proven to his team that people of all abilities can progress in the workforce through perseverance, commitment, respect, and reliability. Not only is his work ethic impeccable, but he is also a personable leader—taking the time to learn each of his team member’s strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, James strives to be a helpful mentor to the people who report to him, which recently led to the promotion of one of his mentees.
Years have passed since James Stender, the boy, first knew he wanted to be in the U.S. Army. Time has sped along since his days as a young man alongside the Duster’s guns. And, since 2010, we have been honored to have him on our team.