Local veteran jumpstarts career, education through military service
Monday, January 17, 2011
High school graduation finds many seniors weighing their options as they pause to evaluate the steps necessary in pursuing a career or education.
For one veteran, who now calls Jefferson City home, the desire to escape the unfavorable circumstances of street violence found him embracing the prospect of enlisting in the Army. And he did it all in the hopes of establishing a new life and securing opportunities previously considered unattainable.
In 1964, local veteran Sylvian Winn was born in Denver, Colo., the son of a mother working as a professional dancer.
“With her career, my mother was on the road a lot,” stated Winn. “She worked for many different groups at that time, including Tina Turner.”
Not long after his birth, Winn and his mother moved to New Orleans, La., where his mother was originally from.
“Growing up in New Orleans was pretty rough in those days,” Winn said. “There was a lot of violence and drugs in the streets, and we even had to contend with police harassment.”
Such circumstances left Winn with the understanding that if he were to have an opportunity to accomplish something in his life, he would need to find an escape from his insufferable surroundings as quickly as possible.
Immediately after his graduation from high school in 1982, the young man began visiting with recruiters from all branches of service.
“I ended up joining the Army because I was very anxious to get out of town and away from New Orleans; they offered me the earliest training date out of all of the service branches,” Winn noted.
Regardless of his burning desire to leave his southern surroundings, Winn knew his mother would not be quite so anxious to see her 17-yearold son join the service.
As he was not old enough to enlist without parental consent, Winn used an interesting tactic to gain his mother's permission.
“I took the bus to the local recruiting station and talked the recruiter into taking me back to talk to my mother,” he stated. “The recruiter brought the enlistment papers with him and, although my mom was furious at first, he was able to talk her into signing them.
“I think part of reason that she signed the papers was that I promised to help her out,” laughed Winn. “I had an allotment sent back home to her out of my military check every month.”
Entering the delayed entry program, Winn shipped to Fort Sill, Okla., in August 1982 and began his training.
“The first available job (the Army) had was as a cannon crewman,” recalled the veteran.
Completing both his basic combat training and his advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Winn graduated in November 1982 after 16 weeks of training.
The young soldier was then transferred to Freiberg, Germany (north of Frankfurt), where he was assigned to a field artillery battery.
“The Cold War was still going strong when I arrived in Germany,” stated Winn, “and the first lesson that I received was regarding the terrorism threats.
“Cars were blown up almost every week on post and if your POV (personally owned vehicle) was found with the doors unlocked, you would receive a court martial.”
Winn stated that many believed terrorist groups operating out of East Berlin were responsible for many of the acts of terrorism targeting U.S. military members in Germany during that time.
Following three months of duty with his new artillery unit, he was approached regarding participation in a special initiative that was born as part of the “Star Wars” project implemented under President Reagan.
Selected because of aptitudes identified by his military test scores, Winn began working with specialized weapons systems as part of a secretive military defense initiative.
“During the training, there were no pens and pencils allowed and you were required to learn everything verbatim,” noted the veteran. “We worked with several different weapon systems, including Hercules, MX and Pershing missiles.”
As Winn stressed that this was not the type of duty that a soldier generally transferred to and from, he continued serving in such a capacity the remainder of his time spent in Germany. After 15 months in the country, the young soldier was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, in early 1984, where he served until his discharge in August 1985.
The veteran then returned home to New Orleans but was not satisfied with the situation he found — a community of families ripped apart by violence and drugs. Not wishing to remain in such an environment, he returned to his birthplace of Denver, bringing his 9-year-old sister with him.
Winn began working various jobs — the primary being at the airport in Denver. Wishing to formalize some of the technical education he received in the Army, Winn took advantage of his GI Bill benefits by enrolling in the Denver Technical College (now DeVry University) and graduated with a two-year degree in electronic engineering in 1992.
While attending school and working at the airport, Winn was convinced on a dare from a friend to support the political campaign of a Denver mayoral candidate. His volunteer efforts paid off as the newly elected public servant, Mayor Wellington Webb, offered the veteran a job on his staff.
Initially, Winn became a special assistant to the mayor and worked on various special projects from 1992 through 1998.
In 1998, he left the mayor's staff to become a political and business consultant. The contacts he made while working for Denver's mayor provided a boon for his career when he was selected to work on Vice President Gore's advance staff during his 2000 presidential bid.
Following the election, Winn made the decision to move to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry with some contacts he had made through networking.
Eventually, Winn’s career has seen him serving as a production assistant and manager for the NAACP's Image Awards and as an operations manager in Atlanta for a record label.
Winn’s mother eventually relocated to Jefferson City and following several visits to see her, he met the wife whom he married in 2005.
Currently residing in Jefferson City, Winn continues to work out of his home as a consultant to various political campaigns and is still involved as an outside consultant with a record label.
Now finishing a bachelor's degree in business and preparing to pursue his master's, Winn attributes his success to the foundation he received in the Army.
“The military provided me with discipline and education … two of my best attributes,” stated Winn. “I just wish that all young people could go in the military for the initiative that it instills.”
Jeremy Amick served in the military for 11 years, is a life member of the Disabled American Veterans, and public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.
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