Service Offers Teen Direction

Dugan Eckstein

Dugan Eckstein Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Gail Hodge (left), Dugan Eckstein’s mother, plans to send him ‘tons of letters’ to help keep his spirits up while he serves a tour of duty in Afghanistan. She encourages everyone to do the same for other soldiers.

Facing an uncertain future after a rocky road through high school led him to few job prospects afterwards, Dugan Eckstein decided to make a change he could be proud of — he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

In just a few weeks, Eckstein will ship off to Afghanistan on his first tour of duty to diffuse bombs, and although he and his family are afraid for his safety, Eckstein says he is ready to go.

On his last visit home before deployment, Eckstein sat down with the Roundup Friday afternoon to explain his thoughts about deployment and his future. While his mother did not want to be a part of the interview, she sat nearby in another room, fighting back tears as she proudly listened to her 20-year-old son display such gallant bravery to serve his country.

“I am very proud of him and afraid for him,” said Eckstein’s mother, Gail Hodge.

Eckstein explained he enlisted in the Army in part to follow his grandfather’s example, who served as a combat engineer during World War II. Like his grandfather, Eckstein decided to become an engineer when he enlisted, this time taking on insurgents in the Afghanistan war.

“I was almost raised by my grandfather, and he had a big impact on me,” Eckstein said. “In a way, I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

Before enlisting, Eckstein said he had never thought about serving in the military. Instead, he had dreams of becoming a police officer. However, when Eckstein graduated from Payson High School in 2008, he found it hard to find a meaningful job.

“I did terrible in high school, I passed but I could have done better,” he said. “I think I had apathy towards what I was doing.”

When a recruiter approached him, Eckstein listened.

“It sounded like a good idea,” he said. “I asked (the recruiter) a lot of questions and I liked that they would pay for college.”

Hodge said with the way the economy is today, she saw the service as an opportunity for her son to find some direction in his life.

And so far, the service has offered just that. When Eckstein leaves the service, he plans to attend college, study criminal justice and become an officer.

While no one else in his family has served on the police force, Eckstein said he “thinks this would be a great career.”

After attending 16 strenuous weeks of basic training, Eckstein should have no problem passing through the police academy.

Eckstein attended basic training in Fort Leonard in Wood, Mo. and although he expected it to be hard, Eckstein said training went surprisingly smooth.

“It went well. It was not as difficult” as I imagined, he said.

Training went well likely because Eckstein loves what he is doing in the service, defusing bombs.

As an engineer, Eckstein will travel in heavily armored vehicles seeking out improvised explosives. Depending on the size of the bombs, Eckstein will work with his unit to disarm them.

While this will be Eckstein’s first time away from his family (he is expected to be overseas 12 to 15 months), he said his family has been supportive and encouraging.

Receiving letters and care packages, Eckstein said, make all the difference.

Hodge said she plans to send tons of letters to keep her son’s spirits up, and encourages everyone to do the same for other soldiers.

“If you know someone in the military being deployed, send care packages, it is something greatly appreciated,” she said.

Hodge’s sister plans to adopt Eckstein’s entire unit when he goes, so everyone receives a piece of mail.

If you would like to lend your support for the troops, donate to the Payson Supply Line. The Supply Line mails soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan 35-pound boxes stuffed full of needed supplies. For more information, visit www.paysonsupplyline.org or call Butch Klein at (928) 474-6968 or Lud Kaftan at (928) 474-6981.

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