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Former Soldier's Army Civilian Service, Supporting Fellow Vets
by U.S. Army Jenn DeHaan, Fort Knox News
November 10, 2022

Children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up, and for many the answer changes over the years.

U.S. Army Colin Lineberger at Fort Knox on October 26, 2021. (Photo courtesy of  Colin Lineberger)Not for Colin Lineberger.

The Fort Knox Installation Protection Branch chief watched his father put on an Army uniform every day throughout Lineberger’s youth. He said that’s why a part of him envisioned he’d also wear one in the future.

“My dad [served for] 27 years,” said Lineberger, “so that’s what I was always familiar with.”

His father was on active duty when the tragic events of September 11, 2001 occurred. Lineberger said he was in middle school at the time and didn’t fully understand the gravity of what had happened.

It wasn’t until his family was stationed in England a few years later when another terrible event stirred Lineberger’s desire to serve.

“My dad and I were in London when the 2005 terror attacks happened,” said Lineberger. “I was getting ready to get on the Eurostar train when an explosion occurred right outside the station.”

His father immediately recognized the danger, Lineberger said, and told him to remove his University of Tennessee sweatshirt so they wouldn’t “look American.” Unable to call his mother due to disrupted cell service following the initial attack, they knew she would be panicked.

“We were making our way back to our hotel on foot and another explosion took place on a double-decker bus right down the street,” said Lineberger. “I remember feeling it in my chest.”

While the weight of the 9/11 attacks hadn’t fully sunk in for Lineberger, he said witnessing the bombings in London opened his eyes to what human beings were capable of doing to each other. Following the day’s events, it was something his father shared with him that truly left a lasting impact.

“That night my dad gave me one of those fatherly talks about the responsibility good men have in stopping evil men,” said Lineberger. “I didn’t know how or in what capacity, but I knew I’d follow in his footsteps and join the military.”

Six years later Lineberger joined the Army, beginning his career in 2011 as an officer in 87th Infantry Regiment at Fort Drum, New York. He went on to complete both Airborne and Ranger School, which helped prepare him for his next challenges.

“I did a couple of deployments to Afghanistan,” said Lineberger. “As an infantry officer, my job was [performing] combat operations in an austere environment.”

While with the 87th, Lineberger served 28 months as a platoon leader and then became an executive officer. He said his sense of purpose broadened with each deployment and experience.. Feeling strongly this was what he was meant to do, he decided to go through the qualification process for Special Forces.

Just as Lineberger was completing the training, though, everything he was working toward suddenly changed. Following a series of catastrophic injuries requiring four separate knee surgeries over 18 months, Lineberger was forced to medically retire.

“I went from four years in the infantry to Airborne and Ranger where I was jumping out of airplanes and blowing things up, to then getting into Special Forces,” said Lineberger, “and then it just didn’t come to fruition.”

Lineberger said the sudden loss of all he’d gone through led to a difficult time in his life.

“I did not transition well,” said Lineberger. “I’d put a lot of work, sweat and tears into what I was trying to do, and then in the 11th hour it just wasn’t to be. I was very upset and went through a dark phase.”

With his Army career over, Lineberger said he took a job in medical sales in hopes of finding that same sense of purpose he’d once felt.

“I tried corporate America. It pays a lot of money for folks getting out of the military,” said Lineberger. “I went from being a big, bad Airborne Ranger to trying to get nurses to talk to me for a Snickers bar, just to sell a product.”

According to Lineberger, he wasn’t getting the fulfillment he did when serving.

“I wasn’t happy,” said Lineberger. “I missed my Soldiers. I missed the [Army] environment. I missed having a mission and a purpose – something more than just making money for some guy who started a company.”

Seeking guidance, Lineberger turned to the source of wisdom that had profoundly affected the course of his life in London years earlier.

Since his retirement, Lineberger’s father had been serving as a civilian employee. He said it was then, during another fatherly talk, his dad suggested that if he couldn’t be in uniform, he might enjoy working as an Army civilian.

Lineberger didn’t hesitate.

“As a civilian, you’re still supporting that higher mission and purpose,” said Lineberger. “If I can’t be a green suiter and jump out of airplanes and get bad guys, this is the next thing I can do to feel like I’m serving and supporting the people that do.”

In his current position, Lineberger is responsible for emergency management and antiterrorism at Fort Knox. He said being a civilian employee allows him to again see the bigger picture.

“I feel a sense of pride and service here,” said Lineberger. “I still get to work with Soldiers, and I feel like this is tied to a higher purpose. I get a sense of fulfillment out of that. This is the next best thing.”

Having rediscovered the purpose he experienced while in the Army, Lineberger said he wanted to share that with fellow veterans. He now also serves as the chief operations officer of The Ultimate Sacrifice Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with veterans, service members and gold star families to help them battle post-traumatic stress and reduce suicides.

“A lot of people get out and they go through this dark phase,” said Lineberger. “It’s like a ship without a sail; they’ve lost their direction. I think tying back into the federal system in one way, shape or form gives them that sense of mission and purpose.”

With this newfound perspective, Lineberger said it was his time in the Army that gave him the ability to develop not just the skillset, but the mindset to persevere.

He said the growth a person goes through after joining is immeasurable.

“I think that the military is an opportunity for you to find out who you are,” said Lineberger. “It’s going to put you in challenging circumstances and empower you.

“If you’re looking for ultimate happiness down the road, you have to know who you are as a human being. The Army does a really good job of helping you figure that out.”

Lineberger also pointed out how effective military service is on a resume. He said it isn’t necessary to make it a full career in order to get a lot out of it.

“You take an 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school and put him in the military for four years, and now he has four years of military service on his record at 22,” said Lineberger. “What if that same 18-year-old kid [instead] goes and makes coffee at Starbucks for four years and then wants to apply for another job? If I’m an employer, I know who I’m going to hire.”

Lineberger said the Army gave him countless skills he still uses, both in work and in life. However, it also gave him something else – something he hopes it doesn’t take another 9/11 or London tragedy for people to choose to serve: “a tribe.

“You come out of it with brothers, sisters and friendships that are going to last a lifetime. They’re going to permeate time and space,” he said. “That sense of tribe is the fabric that holds the Army together, and the way America is today, I think we need a little bit more of that.”

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