WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Army Pvt. Devin Sutherland sat up straight in his wheelchair as he took oath of enlistment to protect and defend the Constitution. This was the beginning of a six-hour career as North Carolina National Guard “soldier for a day” at the NCNG Army Readiness Center, Aug. 6.
Sutherland beat bone cancer but the aggressive treatment left him in heart failure so he could not pursue his dream of joining the military.
He told his Winston-Salem State student nurse Ciara Riley he wanted to be an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) specialist.
“It’s always been something I have wanted to do. It’s the most important part of the military,” said Sutherland.
Riley took the dream as a challenge since she is also Army Staff Sgt. Riley with the NCNG’s 1452nd Transportation Company.
Her unit, with help from the Greensboro and Winston-Salem Police, Winston-Salem State University staff, Brenner Children's Hospital and many others, welcomed Sutherland for a day of training.
After enlistment as an Army private, Sutherland in camouflage uniform stood from his wheelchair to try on a bomb protective suit.
Winston-Salem Police Officers and NCNG soldiers strapped the 100 pounds of protective armor to their newest recruit.
“It is a lot different in real life,” said Sutherland after briefly wearing the heavy armor.
For his next mission, Pvt. Sutherland used a small robot to find fake bombs hidden under a Winston-Salem Police Department truck parked in the center’s drill hall. With skills of many years of video games, Sutherland soon had the robot racing across the floor.
After trying his luck with the most modern equipment, it was time to use a slightly older technique.
Sutherland got to work with a Greensboro K-9 dog and handler to find hidden inert explosives in the building.
“He had it down pat,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Stewart Stevens, an EOD technician with the NCNG's 430th Ordnance Company headquartered in Washington, N.C.
With these successes came advancement as Sutherland was promoted to Army staff sergeant during a quick ceremony at the center.
The final exercise was neutralizing a simulated explosive device outside the center.
Target, a suspicious package near the center, the tool, an eight-wheeled, 700-pound, Remotec F6A robot. With careful control and some advice from the WS Police, Sutherland put the bomb out of commission.
“The controls are a little difficult to learn, but other than that, it is easy,” said Sutherland.
Mission done, it was time for his retirement with a speech, several gifts, many hugs and a dream come true.
“I won’t be able to go into the military now, but at least I get to be (in the military) for the day,” said retired Army Staff Sgt. Devin Sutherland, North Carolina National Guard.