HOUSTON - "When would NOW be a good time to join the Army?" And with that, the Recruiter tilted his head, looked unassumingly at the bewildered applicant, and waited patiently for an answer...
Chief Warrant Officer Dylan Raymond is an imposing figure. At 6 foot 3 inches tall, (six-five in combat boots) and 230 pounds, he’s hard to miss, even in a room filled with camouflaged Soldiers. But as big as he is, intimidating would hardly be a word that describes the man. His wife and four daughters say he has the temperament of a big teddy bear, and even more so now since the arrival five months ago of his first grandchild — a boy!
Raymond, 44, is a 21-year Army veteran assigned to the 75th Battle Command Training Division — an Army Reserve unit based in Houston that conducts pre-deployment training for all Army component forces in support of Overseas Contingency Operations.
As Chief of Current Operations, he manages Active Duty for Operational Support requests, transfers, and generates mobilization orders for Soldiers throughout the division. He also assumes the role of the Division Mobilization Officer, providing quality control checks on all mobilization requests prior to approval and subsequent forwarding to United States Army Reserve Command and Department of the Army; ensuring five brigades and a headquarters element are adequately staffed with Warriors to carry out the 75th’s critical wartime missions.
Raymond has a high-octane approach to life and work, but gifted with an easy-going demeanor, he never appears rushed or impatient. Quick witted and even quicker with the punch lines, what emerges is a man who has leveraged the diversity of street smarts and higher education with a genuine desire to help others.
But like most things worthwhile, it has taken some doing to get to where he is today.
Raymond’s journey began in Brooklyn, N.Y. The second child of six boys, his father was murdered by a fellow employee when he was 12-years-old, leaving his mother to raise her sons in a two-bedroom "project" apartment complex in Brooklyn’s inner city.
"Looking back, I don’t know how she did it," he said about his mother who passed away from cancer two years ago. "Raising six boys in those surroundings and keeping all of us out of trouble is truly amazing. The odds were against us, but she always encouraged us to do better and to rise above our situation. I can remember her working several jobs and even receiving public assistance just to make ends meet and creating opportunities for us."
Wanting to honor his mother’s sacrifices, Raymond made the decision early to make something of himself. His mother recognized that he possessed a superior learning ability when he was advanced from the first to third grade which resulted in him entering high school when he was only 12-years-old.
This decision however, presented its own set of social challenges as he was picked on relentlessly by the older students.
"High school was very difficult for me," Raymond said. "I didn’t start growing until the middle of my junior year and was a constant target because I was so much younger and smaller than everyone else."
As difficult as it was, Raymond pressed on and by the grace of God, he said, somehow made it through and graduated among the top in his class where he also attended college during his last semester of High School. He used his high school experience and competitiveness in football and sports to fuel his determination to succeed. Joining the Army Reserve as an enlisted Soldier proved to be the ticket.
He found the structure and challenges to his liking and used the Army leadership principles he learned to guide him through a series of jobs from city coach bus operator and tour guide to several civil service posts with the New York Transit Authority.
Then in 1998 as a staff sergeant, Raymond accepted another challenging position in the Active Guard/Reserve as a field recruiter with the New York City Recruiting Battalion, Mount Vernon, N.Y., Recruiting Station. There, his creativity, drive to succeed and heart for people went on to earn him top recruiter honors amongst his peers, and he received the Recruiters Gold Badge and the coveted Recruiters Ring.
"My experience as a drill sergeant and recruiter is among the richest and most fulfilling of my Army career," said Raymond. "Before I would take young applicants down to the Military Entrance Processing Station I would ask them, ‘Are you planning on shopping or are you looking to buy today?’ The answer to that question would let me know if the applicant was serious about joining the Army. I realized that I had a knack for reading people and recognizing an applicant’s potential within minutes of meeting them."
In 2001, Raymond met and recruited Marikay Satryano, a 31-year-old high school teacher from Tarrytown, N.Y.
"I knew there was something special about her when I recruited her," Raymond said in his resonant New York brogue. "We kept in contact over the years and she did some incredible things during her deployments in Iraq and Jordan."
He told how Satryano, while performing her duties as a civil affairs specialist, saw the plight of many Iraqi children in need of life-saving medical procedures. With no program in place to help the children, she worked tirelessly to cut through the walls of bureaucratic red tape and establish a foundation that allows sick children to travel abroad to receive the treatment they desperately need.
Raymond said that over the years he was always encouraging Satryano, now a staff sergeant, to apply for a direct commission to become an officer. She had finally done so and now here he was at the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point to take part in her commissioning ceremony.
The ceremony took place January 30th at the historic West Point Club. Raymond, clad in full military dress, looked on with pride as Satryano took the oath of office. Then he and Satryano’s first commander removed the staff sergeant ranks off her uniform, allowing her parents and sister to pin on the gold "butter bars" of the 2nd Lieutenant.
"He’s always been very dear to me," said Satryano of Raymond. "He began the process that set me on this journey that has led to today."
Satryano is the third Soldier that Raymond recruited that has transitioned from enlisted to the officer ranks.
After his successful stint as a recruiter, Raymond, now a master sergeant, embarked on a tour of duty in Iraq where he worked to train Iraqi soldiers. His respect for the Iraqi people, willingness to learn their language and culture, and his servant’s heart won the admiration of both the Americans on his team and the Iraqi soldiers he was there to help.
"Life is about the relationships that you build," said Raymond. "It’s about networking. My motto is you network or not-work. If you serve and you give, it will come back to you. You give out of the kindness of your heart so you can make a positive difference."
Raymond returned home from Iraq having experienced the travails of war; but also enriched from his broadened horizons and the new friends he made. It was at this time that he decided to take his military career to the next level and completed the Warrant Officer Candidate Course in 2006.
"Now that I’m a warrant officer, I’m in a great position to coach, mentor and guide Soldiers in both the enlisted and officer ranks, because I’m an advisor to both parties and I bring that experience," Raymond said.
After leaving West Point and driving into New York City the following day, the frigid winds howling off the Hudson River sent temperatures plummeting into the single digits, creating treacherous road conditions and turning the mountainsides into a mass of solid ice. But Raymond was determined to attend Sunday worship at his church in Brooklyn, and he skillfully navigated his way through the "concrete jungle" and back to his old familiar stomping grounds.
Here, Raymond enthusiastically points to the landmarks of his youth: his elementary and junior high school, the playground that still evokes such vivid memories, and yes, the weathered, dilapidated high-rise, replete with burglar bars on every window he once called home.
"We played football right there," said Raymond pointing to a small grassy area beside a unit of apartments with a battered sign heralding the building the Brevoort Houses. "Over there used to be a parking lot. As you can see, they’ve turned it into a garbage dumpsite. Our apartment was up there on the 5th floor."
Arriving at the Christian Cultural Center church, it was immediately apparent that Raymond was well known and beloved by the parishioners there. He could hardly walk ten feet without being hailed by someone who wanted to hug him or shake his hand.
Raymond ran into Jason Carter at the main entrance greeting people as they entered the church. An animated man in his mid thirties with an infectious smile and piercing eyes, Carter reflected on how years before they served together at the church as service representatives. Raymond had taken him under his wing as a new service representative and encouraged him in the different areas of his life. Now here he was, happily married and a leader in the men’s Ministry of Helps Department which advocates discipleship, responsibility and accountability.
"Words are powerful," said Raymond in response to Carter’s expressive testimonial. "It’s rewarding to see the fruits of the seeds you have sown and how it impacts someone’s life."
"My faith has made me identify that I have a purpose in life that’s bigger than myself," Raymond continued. "A lot of times I wonder and ask God, ‘God, why me?’ and there’s a realization that comes back, ‘Why not you? I created you to impact those that you come in contact with.’"
Back at the 75th headquarters in Houston, Raymond’s voice echoes the Soldiers Creed during the morning formation. The words, "...I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade..." ring out with the conviction that has come to define who he is. And indeed, he is hard to miss, even in a room filled with camouflaged Soldiers.