From war to steakhouse
by DAVID DAVIS Correspondent
Nov 11, 2013 | 6884 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Afghanistan veteran thankful for employer
LONGHORN STEAKHOUSE manager Leeann Pulliam, left, and assistant manager Kelly Swanson pose for a photograph at the new Cleveland restaurant. Swanson is a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Submitted Photo, DAVID DAVIS
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Air Force reservist David Kelly Swanson had enough to worry about during his deployment to Afghanistan without worrying if his job would still be available after he returned home.

Fortunately, while the 37-year-old Murray County, Ga., resident was doing his part to secure the future of the nation he chose to serve, his Cleveland employer was doing the same for him.

LongHorn Steakhouse manager Leeann Pulliam said her father served in the military, so it is not difficult for her to support the career Air Force reservist.

“It’s a pleasure working with Kelly because he helps us get better,” she said. “He integrates a piece of what we’re so proud of here — employing and serving our country’s veterans — so he really helps us with a piece that is really important.”

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and members of Reserve. The law clearly establishes that re-employment protection does not depend on the timing, frequency, duration, or the nature of an individual’s service as long as basic eligibility criterion is met.

Some employers follow the letter of the law, but his employer follows both the letter and the spirit.

“They’ve always been there for me,” he said. “Anytime I’ve needed anything, there has never been any doubt or question.”

Tech Sgt. Swanson’s job in the Air Force is air transportation, the logistics side getting personnel and equipment to where it needs to go.

“We do a lot of joint inspections with the Army and Marines, especially if they have troop movements. We team up with them and walk them through what they need to do to have stuff air ready,” he said. “Another way you could put it is, I’m kind of like a UPS or FedEx guy.”

Swanson completed boot camp and tech school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. From there, he proceeded to Rhein-Main Air Base on the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany. After three years, he extended a few months for a stateside assignment to Pope Air Force Base, N.C., because he was undecided on whether or not to reenlist. (Pope Air Force Base was transferred to the Army in February 2011 and redesignated it as Pope Air Field.)

“I got off of active duty in December 1999 and started in the reserves in January 2000 because I still wanted to serve my county. I still wanted to be part of the military, but maybe not full time and the reserves was the best way to do that,” he said.

He remained at Pope Air Force Base until about 18 months ago when he transferred to Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Marietta, Ga., to be closer to home.

During his assignment in Germany, Swanson participated in Operation Joint Endeavor to quell the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“We were the major supporter in that out of Frankfurt. We sent the first supplies into Bosnia,” he said.

In 1999, he deployed to Kosovo for two months during the Kosovo War, which lasted from February 1998 to June 1999.

Swanson was in the Air Force Reserves by Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked New York City and Washington, D.C. He returned to Pope AFB as a reservist to help deploy the 82nd Airborne.

“We got them out and I think that was the beginning stages of Operation Enduring Freedom,” he said. “That following year, I got activated for 15 months and that was about three months prior to the war starting in Iraq. At that time, we were already engaged in Afghanistan. We’ve been sending troops over there, especially out of Fort Bragg.”

He deployed for four months in spring 2003 to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where most of the danger came in the form of rocket fire from a mountain range that stood between the airfield and the city.

“Kandahar was the training ground for the Taliban, so it was sacred and holy ground to them, and to me, those guys are somewhat ruthless. They don’t hesitate and you can tell Americans are not popular in that region,” he said.

After demobilization in 2003, it would be seven years until his next deployment.

“In 2010, we were in the early stages of shutting down Iraq,” he said. “Myself and about 12 others deployed to a location in northern Iraq to help with some of the base closures. We were pushing to get a lot of these places shut down and get troops and cargo out of the country by the September deadline imposed by President Obama. We went from that location to another location in Iraq and from there, they forward deployed us back to Afghanistan to help out with the surge there.”

He returned Aug. 27 from his latest deployment, a six-month tour in Kuwait.

Swanson said seeing other countries gave him a better appreciation for serving in the armed forces and for being an American.

“When you’re 8,000 miles away from home, you start missing all the little things we take for granted. You start to appreciate things so much more, especially when you see how some of these other countries are,” he said.

Swanson’s military service began shortly after he graduated from Murray County High School in 1994. He worked in fast food for about a year and then joined the Air Force at the age of 19. He wanted to join one of the military services because his father and uncles have all been members of the armed forces in their lives. His father was an equipment operator in the Navy Seabees; one uncle was in the Air Force; another uncle was in the Army and one was in the Marines.

“We’ve all spent our time serving,” he said.

Swanson left active duty service in 2000 to enter restaurant management at McDonald’s Corporation. In 2006, he shifted to LongHorn Steakhouse after a friend convinced him to make the move.

“I had a good friend. He and I spent many years at McDonald’s. He came onboard with LongHorn and talked to me about it and helped me my get my foot in the door,” he said.

In addition to service to his country, Swanson serves his community and other veterans as one of 11 members of a veterans committee in Chatsworth who took it upon themselves to design, raise funds and build a $300,000 veterans memorial park.