Like so many veterans, Hudson Falls resident Bill Utermark has a deep well of skills, leadership and training from his military career.
Utermark, who grew up in Saratoga Springs, knew he wanted to join the Army long before he was old enough to enlist.
“I finally went to the recruiter in 1988, between my junior and senior year of high school. I had to wait until the next year to go to basic (training), but I always knew I wanted to be in the military,” he said.
“Both my grandparents and several uncles all served in the military. I have members of my family in the Army, Air Force and Navy. It’s a history I’m proud of and wanted to be a part of,” he said.
Utermark went to basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 1989, and turned 18 while he was in basic training. Utermark then went on to Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, where he studied to become a personnel and administrative specialist.
“It’s a lot like human resources for the Army, at the battalion level,” Utermark said.
Utermark said he chose that specialty because he wanted to work with soldiers in a one-on-one organizational setting.
“Oftentimes, when someone thinks of the military they picture infantry. People don’t realize all that goes behind our soldiers on the ground or in the air. You need people to pack and monitor supplies, you need officers, cooks, medics, mechanics. You need people to make sure everyone and everything is where it’s supposed to be, or it all falls apart,” he said.
Utermark first served in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Then, from 1992 to 1994, he was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. Utermark finished his active duty time in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
“My service at Fort Campbell is one of the aspects of my career I am most proud of. I was with the 101st Airborne Division, and to be part of the history of that division meant a lot to me,” Utermark said.
The division has a rich history beginning at its inception in 1942, and has had significant impact in every major conflict since World War II.
Utermark took a brief hiatus, but ultimately decided to enlist in the Army Reserve in 1997.
“I was able to walk right into the job because my active duty was so recent. I enjoyed the reserves — it’s the best of military and civilian life combined. It’s laid back, with less time commitment and closer-to-home locations,” he said.
In February 2008, Utermark deployed to Afghanistan.
“My duties were several. I was a senior supervisor, overseeing pay, leave, evaluations, and soldier accountability. My job was to do that for our side, but also to train my counterpart in the Afghan National Army. It was part of a mentor program, and we were helping stabilize and train their army there,” he said.
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Utermark said they were stationed at the Kabul Military Training Center, “a high-stress location.”
“I was doing what most consider office duties, and carrying a sidearm the whole time. Everything over there is a combat area,” he said.
Utermark explained that something as simple as getting the mail required soldiers to be on high alert.
“The place we got our mail was actually attacked a lot. You have to realize everyone is a potential threat because the enemy used women, children, motorcycles, cars – anything could be an explosive weapon,” he explained.
Utermark said one specific close call had his convoy miss a car bomb by mere minutes.
“I’m thankful it wasn’t us. British soldiers were hit just five minutes after we passed through,” he said.
Utermark served nine months total in Afghanistan and returned home to complete two additional years in the Army Reserve. He retired in 2010, after 20 years of military service.
“Coming home was tough for me. I went from a well-respected position as a supervisor and being my own boss to what felt like the opposite back home,” he said.
Utermark was working as a dishwasher at Skidmore College, a job he still holds today. During his deployment he also underwent a divorce.
“I came back angry, short-tempered. There was no time to adjust,” he continued.
Utermark said he was able to cope by joining Wilton EMT, becoming increasing involved in his church and recognizing his leadership extended past his job description.
“It’s hard when you spend 20-plus years in a field, but your civilian job doesn’t line up with your skill set. Military experience isn’t the same as a college degree. But I’ve come to realize that leadership is about attitude and example, not title. I am very proud of my military career, and what it has taught me,” he said.
Utermark is now remarried, with three children. He earned 20 awards and decorations over his career.