You’ve been granted free access to this subscribers only article.
Three decades in the U.S. Army — ‘but I wouldn’t complain’
U.S. Army CW5 Curtis Bell is caught on camera while deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year.
He’s living the life he always wanted to, but it’s come at a price.
“I knew, actually, when I was 5 that I wanted to be an Army pilot,” recalled 31-year U.S. Army veteran CW5 Curtis Bell.
He and his wife, Vonda, were enjoying a back-yard barbecue July 5 in honor of veterans, hosted by their next-door neighbors, retired U.S. Marine Jim White and his son-in-law, retired Texas Rangers chief Hank Whitman, and their families.
Curtis is like a son to White and his wife, Louise, who virtually “adopted” the couple and their family when they moved to Texas from Germany in 2010.
It was Vonda’s job as a civilian analyst for the Army that brought them to Texas. She’s originally from Gainesville, Ga.
“The service member isn’t the only one who serves,” Curtis said, underlining the supporting roles his wife and family have played. “She’s followed me around forever and the kids are constantly moving. The worst thing is the separation from family. But I wouldn’t complain; I’ve done it 31 years of my own free will.”
The two held hands throughout the conversation, glancing constantly at each other to affirm a point or offer encouragement.
Curtis, a native of Maryville, Tenn., joined the Army in 1983. Since then, the family -- the couple have three sons and two daughters -- have lived a number of places, including 11 years in Europe. Curtis has often deployed -- serving in every U.S. engagement since 1983, except Panama, he said. The worst was Somalia, he said, where he flew medical evacuation missions. Curtis also deployed to Iraq for 15 months, as well as nine months in Afghanistan.
As his brigade’s safety officer and chief warrant officer, he mentors warrant officers and helps them manage their careers. The job is satisfying, Curtis said, but the time away takes its toll on the whole family.
The worst thing about being apart “is the time you can’t get back,” said Vonda. “We’ve maybe celebrated five anniversaries and one birthday together.”
Both offer encouragement to other service families.
“Keep in touch!” Curtis said. “Stay engaged. It’s the best thing you can do for the service member and for your family.”
“We can’t keep in touch on our time,” Vonda said. “Nothing is on our time; it’s all at the whim of the department of the Army. ... Have understanding and patience. We can’t change their lives or fate. We have to have faith that everything will be OK.”
And things have been OK.
Curtis treasures that he’s been able to positively impact others, work to set the conditions for them to succeed, and pass on lessons learned, whether from his own service or that of others.
“I’ve worked with the finest people in the world,” he said.
His mentors in his early years in the Army were Vietnam veterans.
“We have a commonality, a bridge, of shared experience,” Curtis said.
That includes the sorrow of losing friends in strife; Curtis lost some good friends while serving in Afghanistan.
However, some deployments have revealed positive aspects, Curtis said. He saw great changes in Iraq.
When he first went, he was setting up a landing zone under maximum security. The place was desolate, Curtis said -- no one around, the parks deserted. When he returned 14 months later for an assessment, “I saw families in the park, playing and holding hands,” he recalled. “I played soccer in the park with Iraqi kids! That’s the difference I saw.”
The deployments brought challenges for his family, especially in 2008 for Vonda.
“The girls were getting ready to leave home,” she said. “I had two toddlers and a new baby.”
“And I was gone 15 months to Baghdad,” Curtis added.
“I had my church family,” Vonda said, referencing their Baptist congregation in Germany. “That’s how we made it.”
They survived, and continue to serve, with Curtis, Vonda, and the boys -- Nathaniel, 15, Joshua, 13, and Alexander, 7 -- living near Floresville. They’re active with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the Young Marines in San Antonio. Daughter Melinda, 27, has followed in her mother’s footsteps; her husband, Brandon, is in the Army. Amanda, 25, serves in the U.S. Air Force, as does her husband, Travis. Curtis and Vonda have two grandchildren, as well.
And the Bells have made a new family connection in Wilson County, with the Whites and Whitmans.
“Having the Whites and Whitmans as neighbors has been a blessing,” Curtis said. “And what they do for the community. This event [the July 5 barbecue for veterans] is Texas.”
“There’s no place like Texas,” Vonda said, a tinge of wonder in her voice. “And we’ve been everywhere!”
Curtis will retire from the Army in November, and he has no regrets about his family’s life of service.
“Understand,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. There are some frustrations. You’re not going to get rich. But you’re going to get a chance to take care of somebody.
“I do it so no one else has to.”
Your Opinions and Comments
Be the first to comment on this story!
You must be logged in to post a comment.
South Texas Living Archives
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 26, 2015)
Cody Johnson to rock Nixon Feather Fest (August 26, 2015)
Dance in Geronimo (August 26, 2015)
Enjoy Fall Feast in Garfield (August 26, 2015)
Franklin Mint (August 26, 2015)
Got prayer? ‘War Room’ does (August 26, 2015)
He’s lived a sweet, gentle life (August 26, 2015)
Kerrville Fall Music Fest Sept. 4-6 (August 26, 2015)
LV prepares for Hammerfest (August 26, 2015)
Memories soar during Honor Flight (August 26, 2015)
St. Hedwig Legion plans Warrior Cry fund-raiser (August 26, 2015)
Whit’s Initiative donates to children’s home (August 26, 2015)
A window to their world (August 19, 2015)
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 19, 2015)
Gillespie County Fair, horse racing meet (August 19, 2015)
LBJ autograph (August 19, 2015)
Lutheran youth plan donation fund-raiser (August 19, 2015)
Purchase tickets for veteran fund-raiser (August 19, 2015)
Receive blessing, sundaes (August 19, 2015)
Remembering Coach Henry Tomerlin (August 19, 2015)
The importance of vaccinating your pets (August 19, 2015)
Tickets on sale for Wild Game Dinner (August 19, 2015)
AgapeFest is Aug. 22 (August 12, 2015)
Age Well, Live Well event (August 12, 2015)
Back-to-school carnival (August 12, 2015)
Barbecue benefit for Logan Saenz Aug. 16 (August 12, 2015)
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 12, 2015)
Bible study in Verdi (August 12, 2015)
Falls City alumni celebrate Beaver Roundup (August 12, 2015)
Free family recycling event (August 12, 2015)
H-E-B invites Texans to shed pounds, gain dollars (August 12, 2015)
Hear country tunes in New Braunfels (August 12, 2015)
Labor Day campout (August 12, 2015)
Play bunco in La Vernia (August 12, 2015)
Prescription-free healing pleasures of summer (August 12, 2015)
Remembering the Farmer’s Daughter Dance Hall (August 12, 2015)
Sunday Country Dance set for Aug. 16 (August 12, 2015)
Tabletop radio (August 12, 2015)
Three Oaks Ice Cream Social (August 12, 2015)
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 5, 2015)
Classic cookbook (August 5, 2015)
Farmers Market in Loire (August 5, 2015)
Floresville Leo Club Back to School event (August 5, 2015)
Get set to get wet at Splash-O-Lympics (August 5, 2015)
Hear Chris Rybak at Czech Gala (August 5, 2015)
Pilgrim Opry is Aug. 8 (August 5, 2015)
Prom date grows into enduring love — 15 years later (August 5, 2015)
Rey Feo group to award scholarships (August 5, 2015)
Savor: Lemon Pesto Mason Jar Pasta Salad (August 5, 2015)
St. Gerard Rummage Sale Aug. 8 (August 5, 2015)
Stockdale Leo Club fund-raisers (August 5, 2015)
The Floresville, Wilson County story from days gone by (August 5, 2015)
‘The’ rock wall: Searching for answers (August 5, 2015)