Photo by Charity Maness/Fall River County Herald Star
(Marshall) David Stewart, left, is sworn in to the South Dakota National Guard on October 18 by Lt. Colonel Weber, Recruiting Battalion Commander, at the State Veterans Home in Hot Springs.
By Charity Maness
HOT SPRINGS – On Oct. 18, at 1100 hours Marshall David Stewart, surrounded by friends, family and dignitaries was sworn into the South Dakota Army National Guard (SDANG), the first South Dakota resident to participate in the re-entry program for Retired regular Army Warrant Officers; the military recognizing the need to retain those with valuable skill sets.
When Stewart heard of the program allowing retired Army Warrant Officers to return in an instructional capacity, he jumped at the chance.
“I’m excited, I did not want to stop serving our country,” said Stewart of his choice to re-enlist after serving for more than three decades and retiring in 2019. “Being a father and a long time soldier I have a lot to offer these kids.”
Growing up in Savannah, Ga., Stewart remembers dreaming of being a soldier.
“It was in my blood,” he said. And with military blood running through his veins, his father being with the 101st in Vietnam in 1965-1966, he couldn’t resist the call. “I wanted to join and be Airborne just like my dad.”
In high school he immersed himself in the Junior ROTC.
“As soon as I started ROTC it was a fit, it was weird, but it felt like I had been a soldier a thousand years ago.”
At the age of 17, with his father’s blessings, Stewart enlisted in the US Army wanting to be with 11 Bravo Airborne.
After taking an aptitude test it was discovered that Stewart showed an extremely strong linguist ability. He was asked if he would be willing to change his MOS from infantry to 352 N, Signals Intelligence Voice Intercept – intercepting enemy communication, he accepted.
After basic training he was sent to Monterey, Calif., to learn Korean and by 1992 was shipped to Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division on the DMZ listening and intercepting North Korean communications.
“I have to admit my Korean came in handy in the bars,” he laughed.
After two tours of Korea, in 1996 he went to Fort Lewis and was assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group, Special Operations Team Alpha in the same capacity yet found he was slated to ship to Korea once again.
“I chose to get out,” he said, “I couldn’t have a life anymore if I went again.”
Yet that lure of the military just couldn’t be fought and he enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard and found himself quickly activated to serve on a humanitarian mission during the floods of 1997.
He returned back home to Savannah and transferred to the Florida National Guard in 1998 and was assigned to the 20th Special Forces Group this time with a new language added to his linguistic repertoire; Spanish.
While his intention was to continue to serve, he was in a motorcycle accident that derailed his plans for two and a half years. With 10 broken bones, and an almost shattered pelvis, the guard allowed his contract to expire; end time in service.
By 2002, Stewart was chomping at the bit to get his boots muddy again and joined the Georgia National Guard and then Regular Army in 2004 and attending infantry school.
By December 2004, Stewart was in Iraq serving as an infantryman with the 82nd airborne in the intel section doing analysis and conducting missions in Bagdad, Mosul and Tal Afar. While in Iraq, just one year later, with his tour coming to an end, Stewart re-enlisted.
“I felt like we were fitting well there,” he said, “I felt like we were trying to help as soldiers, we could have done better as a whole team (including military brass and politicians) to get the Iraqi people on our side. I knew that my calling was to go back to intel and had already set the process in motion to get my security clearance again I put in my request and was accepted to be a linguist to go to language school for Arabic.”
In 2007, now with Korean, Spanish and Arabic in his arsenal, the Army sent Stewart to Afghanistan with the 3rd Special Forces group; Farsi was not in his tool box.
Feeling the need to choose a direction for himself, in 2009 he applied to become a Warrant Officer and was accepted.
“As a warrant officer we are the technical advisors on a mission,” he explained, “the middle man between command and troops.”
Now as a Warrant Officer, in 2011-2012, his linguistic skills were put to use again when stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso running missions into Colombian airspace doing aerial reconnaissance.
“The reconnaissance was over the Colombian jungle, both imagery and communication interception of the revolutionary group called the FARC,” said Stewart. The FARC was a Marxist guerrilla group who often used armed assaults, hostages, and assassinations to force their propaganda. Soon, in order to fund their revolution, they turned to cocaine production and distribution.
“This was Colombian narco terrorism,” said Stewart. “Revolutionaries turned drug runners.”
Patrolling the skies in a de Havilland DHC-7, aka Dash 7, with a crew of 7, five of which were interceptors, the team would gather as much information as possible.
When not in the skies over the jungles Stewart also worked out of the embassy.
“I wore plain clothes and I could walk around in local attire and fit in,” he recalled. “Most everyone spoke Spanish to me as people did not know I wasn’t Colombian.” It was an excellent way to glean information.
In 2013, Stewart was tapped to take over for 10th Special Forces group at Fort Carson.
“I was in charge of 124 fellas,” he said. “We were hopping and popping, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, Africa, all doing missions and collecting intel.”
“I would direct and set up missions and oversee training.” Often having to coordinate with National Security Agency (NSA).
“Anything done in my discipline in a combat zone has to be signed off by the NSA. The NSA is the purveyor for anything signals intelligence for the world, again I was a technical expert middle man to get my guys on the ground anywhere in the world to collect intelligence.”
His team was awarded the NSA Directors Trophy for the US Army in 2013.
“We were killing it,” said Stewart.
But again a choice had to be made in his life.
“I had gotten to the point where I knew my time was up and I was going to have to move if I stayed in and my personal life trumped my professional life,” said Stewart.
Stewart retired December 31, 2019, and was working at the State Veterans Home in his new home town of Hot Springs by October 2020.
In early 2021 Stewart had heard rumors of a re-entry program for Warrant Officers but was not willing to take that next step until certain COVID requirements were finally lifted in December 2022.
“I began the process in January 2023,” he said.
Now that he is sworn in Stewart will attend an instructor school and then will be working at the regional training institute training new Warrant Officers.
“It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do,” said Stewart of imparting his wisdom and guidance, “when I retired my guys gave me a plaque that said I was born to mentor. I like that.”
For all the years of service to our country Stewart said there was only one difficulty, “balancing personal and professional life because you have so many things pulling at you.”
But he wouldn’t have traded his lifetime of experiences for anything.
“The brotherhood, the camaraderie, it is incredible,” he said, “looking back and the faces that you see, the memories and the experiences, all so diverse.”
For youth interested in joining the military Stewart has a little advice. “Talk with recent veterans or current soldiers who understand what is going on in the service now, do your research and make sure its current and relevant.”