November is a month of gratitude and reflection. It’s a fitting time to think about those who put on the uniform… recently or long ago… to protect and defend our nation.
This year, especially, it feels like a poignant moment to look hard at how military conflicts impact our world, our community and our families. November has brought us stories before, about embattled places in the news. Still, few of us have ever known what it’s like… to wake up every day and wonder: ”will there be combat that my brothers and sisters have to face today?” or “when will the peacemakers prevail… and make my job less necessary?” Let us all join in to say, “thank you for your service”. We really do mean it.
This special Veterans’ Day issue honors two local grads who bravely took those footsteps. Jim Dexter learned what it was like to be “in country” back when that phrase was new to many Americans. Scott Ham left our shores three times in a different era, decades later. The words “attack on America” had not been used for over sixty years. Both of them came home and applied what they had learned about leadership.
Introduction and spotlights by Rex Bickers, FCHS ‘70
Jim Dexter is a seasoned leader in both the American Legion… at its Bonnie Sloan Post (#28) on McDonald Lane… and at the Hobart Beach Post (#1693) of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) on Grant Line Road. He’s always happy to explain the differences between the two. The distinction is in the charter of each organization. For the VFW, it’s right in the name. It’s open only to veterans who served outside the US, in a military conflict or expedition. (Learn more about the history of the American Legion and VFW.)
Jim’s foreign war was in Vietnam. He enlisted in the Marines right after high school (graduating at mid-term in February 1968). His tenure in the VFW has lasted six times longer than his three years of active duty. But his experiences in that faraway place… and those of his fellow Marines… shaped his commitment to serve. It’s been very tangible over the past twenty years.
Like many veterans, Jim had a good career in civilian life for nearly forty years. He worked in the wholesale and retail lumber business, initially in sales, and later in management. He brought those capabilities to his VFW post, helping to secure a much-needed, sound financial footing. He has occupied a leadership role for 20 years, serving as quartermaster, adjutant… and for 15 of the past 17 years, post commander (a position elected annually by the membership). Additionally, he currently chairs the Voice of Democracy committee and the scholarship committee. He also devotes additional time and energy to programs, specific to the Marines, such as Toys for Tots (founded in 1947 by veteran Marines).
Jim’s priorities are almost identical to the mission and vision of the VFW: camaraderie among veterans in good times and help with specific problems when needed. It includes promoting public service to the community by veterans, along with recognizing and honoring those who served. At the national level, advocacy and legislative lobbying have yielded so much of what we now take for granted: the very creation of the VA, the GI Bill, battling the consequences of toxic exposures and much, much more.
Do you want to know where you’ll find Jim and the VFW? They’re hiding in plain sight. They’re at the funerals of veterans who request military honors, at Harvest Homecoming and New Albany’s VA Plaza on Veteran’s Day. Be proud, New Albany… of Jim, along with all the men and women of the VFW everywhere.
The career timeline of Scott Ham bears some similarities to Jim Dexter’s life and some big differences. Jim joined the Marines in the spring of his senior year by graduating mid-term. Thanks to a unique arrangement with the Indiana Army National Guard, Scott was offered local training at age 16 in May of his junior year. In September of his senior year, at the age of 17, he was allowed to “officially” enlist. As a result, he had already qualified expert with mortars, rifles, pistols and hand grenades before he even went to basic training. It prepared him to join an “11C” (mortar) platoon in the “1-151st IN BN”. That’s shorthand for the 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment. (Read more on the history of the Indiana Army National Guard and its two infantry regiments, the 151st and the 152nd.)
Enlisting in the National Guard typically allows the pursuit of a civilian career. Advancing in rank and experience is a choice for those who seek it. As a teen, Scott had developed a serious interest in public utilities (water and wastewater) and worked his way up through Greenville and Floyds Knobs Water companies. In 1989, he joined the Silver Creek Water Corporation; simultaneously, he became squad leader of his unit in the Guard. It led to opportunities, including a tour of West Point… not long after the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11. On that same trip, Scott decided to go visit Ground Zero. It instilled in him an urge to seek active deployment “serving wherever needed.” Thus, unlike Jim, Scott’s service overseas began at age 34!
From 2002 to 2008, he spent over 30 months deployed in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. His duties ranged from personal security (for command officers) to educating Bosnian children on the dangers of unexploded ordinance. He oversaw the drilling of water wells and repairing water systems in Afghanistan. He served as a mortar platoon sergeant and separately, helped meet the needs of refugee camps. Between his second and third deployments, he was promoted to 1st Sergeant and re-aligned with the B-Troop of Indiana’s 152nd Cavalry regiment. Located at a Marine base in Iraq, his troop was part of a Sustainment Support Brigade to units that ran over 1200 combat logistics patrols.
In 2012, he became Branch Chief for Non-Commissioned Officers Courses at the Indiana Regional Training Institute (Camp Atterbury), then went on to attend the Sergeant Major Academy, a full year at Fort Bliss, Texas. After his promotion to Command Sergeant Major… the highest rank awarded to noncommissioned Army officers… Scott retired in 2015.
He’s deeply engaged in 22challenge, a local organization involved in suicide awareness, prevention and training. He’s an avid outdoorsman, a unicyclist and a great entertainer. Scott’s story has countless other chapters, and surely, there are still more to come.