When Russell Lowery enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard while still in high school, he was looking for adventure and a path that would give him self-worth and a purpose.
"I wanted to do something that was important, and I found that through the military," said Lowery, now 42.
Initially from Franklinton, a small, rural town in North Carolina, Lowery planned on serving six years to "get the college benefits and then to get out." He also wanted to carry on a family tradition of military service, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a Vietnam War Navy vet, and two uncles who served in the Army during the Cold War.
Twenty two years later, he retired at the rank of Sergeant First Class.
"It seemed like after the six years had passed, I got more interested in staying with the Army," he said. "And before you know it, it was 10 and 12 years later and at that time, I decided I've got so many years underneath my belt, I might as well stay for retirement, so I stayed on."
His service took him across the nation and abroad.
Assigned to Fort Hood in Texas, Lowery was called up for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990.
"The plan for our deployment was to go overseas and relieve the active duty soldiers that were currently fighting in the Gulf War. After our training was complete and we were getting on the plane ready to fly over, they found out that the war was ending so we were sent home at that point," he said.
He later moved to Virginia to be closer to family and transferred to a local National Guard unit following his active duty tour. There he trained as an infantryman before transferring to New Jersey in 2002 where he trained as a military police officer.
"The initial plan with that program was to send military policemen overseas to support the war on terrorism since Sept. 11 had just happened about six months before," Lowery said.
Later that year, his unit was called for Operation Enduring Freedom and deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for close to a year supporting the detainee camp operation.
"We were only there for a year, but it was the most meaningful part of my service. With the 9/11 attacks that happened previously, that deployment it just seemed like it was so much more personal and closer to me that I was deployed there and serving my country there," Lowery said.
In 2003, a recently married Lowery moved to Georgia in 2003 and re-enlisted in the Army Reserve, assigned to Fort Gilliam as an instructor trainer.
He was called once again to active duty in 2007 to train troops preparing for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He came off active duty in 2009 and retired the next year.
"At first, it was the adventure of it. My hometown of Franklinton is a small country town. There's not a whole lot in that town as far as jobs or businesses, economic growth," Lowery said. "At the time, I wanted to see the world, live the adventure of traveling places, doing things and feeling that importance of being involved."
Two decades later, those feelings remain, "but it has changed over the years, especially with all the deployments, all the active duty service."
"My sense of service has grown more personal over the years, because I realize all the sacrifices being made on a daily basis by the soldiers and the troops," Lowery said. "We take freedom for granted every day and all the protections that we have by the military. You realize the freedoms that you have are more closely guarded when you've served in the military; it's personal."
Now retired from the military, Lowery is employed as a patrol officer with the Dawson County Sheriff's Office.
He and his wife, Tammy, have two children, son Dawson, 6, and daughter Kadie, who is nearly 2.