HARKER HEIGHTS — Retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Danny Ady was heading toward a career in college basketball when life stepped in the lane, blocked his shot and pointed him toward the military.
“If you’d asked me in high school whether I was going to join the military, I’d have said no,” the 61-year-old Harker Heights resident said. “I was one of those teenagers who just wanted to play all the time.
“My dad did a great job of raising me for my first 18 years and basketball was a pretty good push for me. In some ways I was pretty successful, but it just didn’t pan out.
“I was working for an air conditioner manufacturing company after I graduated high school, paying my own rent, making my own way. One weekend in the summer of ’78, I was back at the house and I drove around the old town I was raised in, and sometimes it just dawns on you that, you know what, this ain’t your town no more.
“I looked around and said, ‘I need to go and do something.’”
Born in Wichita Falls and raised about two hours south in Arlington, just outside Dallas, Ady never considered joining the service, but that’s exactly what he wound up doing that first summer after high school.
“I decided I wanted to go at least look and see something different,” he said. “I could easily have been a U.S. Marine. I went into the building where all the recruiting stations were and the first door on the right was the Army. That’s where I got started.
“I took the entrance exam — which they call the ASVAB (aptitude) test — and the guy told me about a $2,000 bonus for heavy equipment operator. This teenager is thinking the whole time, ‘OK, I’m going to drive 18-wheelers.’
“I shipped off to Fort Knox (Kentucky) on the 24th of July and this big ol’ tank pulls out. I said, ‘Good Lord, what did I get myself into?’”
Basic training and AIT (advanced individual training) were both at Fort Knox, and Ady says the rigors of boot camp took a little getting used to at first.
“I was still in pretty good shape from athletics, so I guess if anything was a shock, it was that somebody was constantly telling me what to do and how to do it. I didn’t care for it too much, but I survived it. Put it that way.”
His first duty station as an armor crewman was Fort Riley, Kansas, where he arrived in December 1978, not long before his first son was born. Along with becoming a father, there was another highly memorable experience there when he drew guard duty.
“I got introduced to Kansas snow,” Ady said. “It was about three o’clock in the morning, the snow is piling up, and I’m freezing. I thought, this Texas boy can’t go for this.
“I was in the motor pool one day, and I went up to my tank commander and I told him, ‘Hey, this ain’t for me. I’ve got to get out of here.’
“I had the mindset that this was just like a (regular) job and I can quit anytime I want to. I learned real quick you couldn’t.
“My mentors have always been first sergeants and sergeants major. Filiberto Rodriguez was a first sergeant at the time, and he sat me down for a couple of hours, and he said, ‘You’re into something you know nothing about. Nobody knows you and you don’t know anybody else.’
“He said, ‘Give it a chance. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll find other means.’ Twenty-five years later, I wound up retiring.”
After Fort Riley, it was overseas to Germany, an assignment that began to turn things around for young Ady.
“At that time, it was still the Cold War and so you still had border duty,” he said. “That was a point where I got the opportunity to do the job I signed up for. I was pulling border duty and looking at things that … if I was calling in a report, I had to make sure I knew what I was talking about.”
Two years later, Ady re-enlisted and was assigned to Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division, where he spent two years before becoming a recruiter and being sent to Michigan for three years. Then, it was back to Korea in late 1987.
“I loved it over in Korea because that war never ended, and so you had a sense of, hey, I’m responsible for something. I did a year there, left, and went to Fort Ord, California, with an assignment to Fort Hunter Liggett. I was there from ’88 to ’92.
“Hunter Liggett was a hardship tour. Your family stayed at Fort Ord. The good thing about Hunter Liggett was right after Desert Storm, I got the opportunity to participate in the M1A2 project, which I thought was great.
“I actually tried to go to the Middle East. A sergeant major I had was a bigtime Vietnam vet, and one day he called me into his office, and I told him I was trying to get this 4187 (transfer form) through, and he showed me (on the news) that the war was over.
“I guess the good Lord was looking out for me, but the good thing was we were successful as an Army. Right after that — in 1992 — I went back to Korea and did that tour at Camp Casey. Finished that and came back to Fort Hood and was assigned to the NCO Academy from ’93 to ’97.”
By 2000, he got orders to leave Fort Hood and go back to Korea, then served at Fort Stewart, Georgia, before deciding to take off his combat boots for the final time.
“I went home one day and told my wife, ‘I’ve given ‘em 25 years, and I think it’s time to go home.’”
Ady and his wife of 22 years, Martina, came back to central Texas and settled in Killeen. He went to work for the next 16 years as an instructor with Northrop Grumman Corp., teaching soldiers how to operate and maintain equipment, before retiring for good in July 2020.
Now, the father of four and grandfather of one plays a lot of golf, and also enjoys working in his yard and around the house.
Looking back at his military career, Ady says he has absolutely no regrets. As he rose through the enlisted ranks, he tried to mentor young soldiers that same way he was mentored early in his career.
“I’m very glad I joined. It gave me a chance to finish growing up, and as I grew up and learned, I shared it. I was a believer that knowledge has power only when it is shared.
“I enjoyed the Army — I believed in it. I used to tell young soldiers a lot, ‘Some of you get down and depressed. Here’s what I want each one of you to do: go on google and look up the population of the United States. Once you do that, write that number down. Then I want you to google the number of military service members that serve this country. Now, do the simple division.’
“At some point, for each individual soldier that serves — no matter which branch they’re in — that number comes up to be about 1.2 million people’s freedom and safety in this country.
“I call it the two-percent club. I had a friend who said it’s probably more like a 1.5- or a 1-percent. I tried to get that perspective into that young man or young lady’s head, so they understand that what they do is important, not just to them but to everybody in this nation.
“I enjoyed being a tanker, but like I said, most of my mentors were first sergeants and sergeants major. I couldn’t wait to put on the (first sergeant) diamond so I could be responsible for people. As a first sergeant, you’re a walking icon.
“Everywhere you go, younger soldiers are paying attention to what you’re doing. Your attitude, the way you carry yourself — not just on-duty, but off-duty at the same time.
“What I used to tell my soldiers was, ‘I don’t care where you’re at, if you can get to a phone — let’s say you partied too much — and you can get a hold of me, I’ll come get you and take you home, and we’ll talk it over on Monday.’
“If you’re approachable … sometimes a soldier just wants to vent to somebody. If you give them that opportunity and just show that you support them, it makes things a lot easier.
“I tell young soldiers, give it a chance. You are into something that you know nothing about. Grab all the knowledge that you can and go to college. It’s hard nowadays because they’re constantly deployed. It’s a different world now than when I came through.
“The Army is not for everybody, but give it a chance, and do everything you can with it during your first contract. Then, if it’s not for you, take that honorable discharge and your DD214, and that college degree that you worked on, and go get a great job on the outside.”