KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – There are many reasons one chooses to enlist in the military. For Spc. Romanthis Dillard the decision to join the Army Reserves was influenced in part by advice he got from his father, Romano Dillard.
"My dad encouraged me to do something different with my life," Dillard, a native of Minden, said. "I always wanted to join a branch of the military; I just didn't know which one."
What Dillard did know was that he wanted to serve his country by operating construction equipment in the military. Following in his father's footsteps, Dillard remembers working for his dad's contracting business when he was just a young kid. His passion for operating began at the age of 10 when he used an excavator to scoop his first piles of dirt.
Now, three years into his military contract, Dillard finds himself with the 721st Engineer Company of Grand Prairie, Texas, in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan doing both something he loves and something different with his life: operating armored construction equipment and serving his country.
Though the drawdown of troops is beginning to take place, Dillard said a great deal of construction projects remain unfinished.
Dillard said his most challenging project yet was in January when his platoon started their first overseas mission. Their task was to build a strategic fighting position from the ground up for the infantry near the Afghan city of De Maiwand.
For nearly a month Dillard and his comrades worked 24 hours a day without the luxuries of showers or bathrooms. When he wasn't operating bulldozers, front-end loaders or road graders, he was either helping pull security or "sleeping in his vehicle or under the stars."
"I'm not going to lie – it sucked," Dillard reflected. "But we got a great idea of what we could do together as a team."
And despite their austere working environment, Dillard said his crew made the best of it; he still found a way to enjoy himself.
The primary mission for Dillard and his platoon continues to be cutting roads, installing culverts, and building or expanding soldier living compounds. Their missions allow U.S. and coalition forces better freedom of movement and access to the insurgents. Their roads are also developing stronger rapport with the Afghans, allowing them to travel places once inaccessible. Dillard's civilian experience has made him one of the primary operators in his platoon.
When he's not pushing dirt with a bulldozer or spreading rock with a front-end loader, he is teaching and mentoring the inexperienced soldiers. He said he takes his responsibilities seriously and puts forth his best efforts to help the platoon in any way he can. Being away from his daughter and family has been difficult, but Dillard said he stays motivated by his love for the United States and concern for his fellow soldiers.
"It's hard being away from the family," Dillard said. "But I'm here to serve my country ... to make it a better place and give it a better future."
When Dillard comes home to Texas later this year, he intends to get his contractor's license so he can do independent construction work for home owners and businesses. Dillard said he's excited to continue serving his country, helping his father's contracting business and doing what he loves: operating construction equipment.