Military service – a foundation for life
There’s a fairly new veteran in Marlinton – not newly discharged from the service, but newly settled and involved in the town and county.
Joseph Sharp and his wife. Christine, found their new home in 2011 while biking on the Greenbrier River Trail. Always outdoor enthusiasts, Joe said they stayed on the lookout for a place to retire.
The couple stopped at the parking lot near the Community Wellness Center in Marlinton and looked around.
“This is it, Christine,” Joe said.
Three more trips from Oxen Hill, Maryland, to Marlinton, and the couple bought their retirement home on Third Avenue.
“We bought it, even though it is in the flood plain,” Joe said.
Not only did they buy it, but they have breathed new life into it, and have become involved in the community, as well.
As a young man, Sharp lived in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Uncertain as to his career path, he enlisted in the Air Force in 1968, right out of high school, and served until August 1971.
It was at the height of the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War.
“The draft was not in effect back then,” he said. “It was enacted after I enlisted, but as it turned out my draft number was pretty high – like three-hundred or something. But that didn’t matter. I wanted to serve my country, so I enlisted in the Air Force.”
Although he did not see combat, he credits the Air Force with providing him an education and setting him on a path to a successful career in communications and technology.
Sharp received his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and continued his training at Goodfellow AFB in St. Angelo, Texas, home of the 17th Training Wing.
He then spent 18 months as a communication analyst at a U.S. Air Force Base in San Vito, Italy.
He worked with the Air Force Security Service, which is the Military Branch of the National Security Agency (NSA).
That laid the groundwork for his eventual civilian career, working for information technology companies such as IBM and Computer Task Group.
When he went into communications in 1968, he could not foresee what the world of communications would look like today.
“Back then, we were working with computers that were gigantic machines,” Sharp said. “Nothing like we have today. We had punch cards. Not like today where everybody, whether they want to or not, are now – with smart phones and tablets – everyone has a feel for it, and people who have had no prior experience are now quite efficient with them – especially kids.”
Although his career has been in communications, when it comes to kids – his grandchildren to be more specific – he limits their use of gadgets, and makes them talk to each other.
Life is about balance and benefits.
Sharp appreciates the benefits he received from his time in the Air Force, especially with regard to education. He believes the Air Force and the Navy offer great opportunities for young men and women in preparing them with needed skills for the workforce.
“Instead of finding out in high school or college what I’d like to do, he said, “I was exposed to communications in the military, and that put me ahead of the curve at that time – by far over the civilian population. I was able to get a job with the Computer Science Corporation as a contractor with Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.”
Sharp said he was able to work in all the high end industries as well, such as banking, insurance and pharmaceuticals.
In a time when college tuition is so expensive, he recommends that young people work hard in high school and consider the opportunities afforded by the military.
“I think, in the military, you get some choice of what you want to do,” he said, “but there are no guarantees. But, regardless, I would say study in high school because it’s going to pay off when you go into the military. They do a lot of testing – aptitude tests – what kind of skills does this person have? Can they grasp and comprehend the type of technology that we’re going to train them for?
“You need a strong high school base whether you’re going to college or not.”
Sharp said one of the most helpful things the military offers is the GI Bill – a big help with education expenses after someone leaves the service.
“You also have a lot of experience already under your belt,” he said. “Finding a job will be much easier for you than if you’re just coming out of college. You can also pursue your education while you are in the military, and you can almost have a degree ready to go when you get out.
“With the training and experience you get in the military, plus a college education, you can write your own ticket.”
Students coming right out of college have little to no experience and, these days, employers want both, Sharp said. They want two or three years’ experience, and how are you going to get it?
“You have to start somewhere to get it,” he continued. “I would recommend – to men and women – to look to the military for those very reasons. The military teaches more than combat skills. It is involved in just about everything – weather, science, avionics. These lead to good paying jobs.”
College debt is another reason to consider enlisting in the military.
“It is two-fold,” Sharp said. “You are doing your obligation – serving your country – doing your part as a citizen, but look at it, also, as an opportunity to get an education through the benefits such as the GI Bill. One of the drawbacks to young people today is college debt. If your parents don’t have the money, then you have to borrow it, and you have such a debt to pay back, that it’s hard to get your feet off the ground.”
Sharp got his “feet off the ground” when he went from the service to the workforce.
Now, in their retirement, he and Christine are putting their backgrounds and energy to good use through projects in Pocahontas County – a place where they are content, he said.
Christine was one of the vendors at this year’s Autumn Harvest Festival and RoadKill Cook-off, and you will find her and her handmade Christmas ornaments at the Holiday Craft Show December 2 at the opera house.
They also work with Jim Burton of Burton’s Enterprises and Debbie Walker at Deb Ann’s Fabrics in Hillsboro.
“She’s a very nice lady,” Sharp said. “She calls us her support team. What I did for her was to revamp her website. We help her with that end of her business and with her marketing team.”
The couple was also involved with the Fall Quilt Retreat, and are working with that group to find ways to make it a bigger and better attraction in the future.
Their home on Third Avenue holds a lot of memories for many who grew up in Marlinton. It was the home of Oren and Gladys Waugh, who were very involved in youth activities and sports, and opened their door to young people.
It appears the Sharps are set to leave their mark on that property and the county, as well.
Any young person interested in enlisting in the military would do well to seek guidance from Sharp – a fine example of what the military can do to jumpstart a career.