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Reaching out at the Rock I: Senior Airman Trent Dodge

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles about the efforts of Team Little Rock Members to volunteer in the Little Rock community.

Most Airmen serve their country with peerless drive and passion. The drive to succeed and accomplish the mission by Airmen helps make the United States Air Force the world's premier aerial warfare force. Yet sometimes overlooked, but never unimportant, aspect of an Airman's service is his or her service to the community outside the wire.

Military and civilian communities often share a symbiotic relationship. The two sometimes exist in different worlds, but rely on each other for support, and both benefit from the other's existence. Maintaining good relations between the members of the armed forces and civilian communities is important enough that it was the topic former Secretary or Defense Robert Gates focused on when he accepted the Sylvanus Thayer Award at West Point Academy in October 2011.

A lot of service members know volunteering for community service can buttress their performance reports, but when Senior Airman Trent Dodge, a 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator, saw an email saying North Pulaski High School was in need of a last minute volunteer to coach the school's wrestling team, the last thing on his mind was an EPR.

"That wasn't why I did it at all," Dodge said. "I had actually been planning to go to Cabot (High School) and talk to their coach, but realized North Pulaski was right outside of the gate. I planned on going to talk to North Pulaski, and the same week I saw an email sent out base-wide about North Pulaski needing a wrestling coach."

Dodge said he jumped on the opportunity to become the new wrestling coach for the school. He shared coaching duties with another volunteer, and together they worked with the student wrestlers to coach and train them for competition.

A Michigan native, Dodge said wrestling isn't as popular in Arkansas as it is in his home state, but the students we're all eager to learn, and he was eager to just get back into wrestling.

"I wrestled in high school," said Dodge. "Four years of varsity, but senior year I had to get knee surgery."

He said that knee surgery prevented him from wrestling in college.

"I just miss (wrestling), so I wanted to get back into it," he said.

Transitioning from wrestler to coach was an easy one, said Dodge. He started attending all of the practices and tournaments, trying to teach the students everything he knew about wrestling.

Dodge's dedication to the school's wrestling program was noted by a lot of people.
"A1C Trenton Dodge has become very active with our wrestling program," Rex Thomen, the father of North Pulaski High School wrestler Phalin Thomen, and dedicated supporter the NPHS wrestling team wrote in an email. "He attends daily practices, dual meets on week nights, and tournaments on weekends. As a younger Airmen, with a wife and young child, he is remarkably mature and dedicated. He often wrestles and mentors during practices. He has become quite an integral part of our team."

The remarkable dedication Dodge put into coaching came naturally to him, he said.

"It was great to get back into wrestling because I love to do it," he said. "It was also great to help the kids. I like to think my coaching had a good impact on the team, I was able to teach them some stuff they didn't know ... I think I helped them get better by wrestling with them every day. In my experience, the only way you get better at something is getting (tested) everyday."

While Dodge said he thinks his work on the wrestling team was positive, after the state wrestling competition, Thomen stated unequivocally his endorsement of Dodge's efforts.

"In the Arkansas state wrestling competition North Pulaski finished sixth out of 20 schools, while only fielding 9 wrestlers of the 14 weight classes," he wrote. "Much of this success can be contributed to Trenton Dodge's work with the team. He shouldered a great deal of the burden from the other volunteer coach, but his infectious enthusiasm and love of the sport have the team already starting to talk of next year and how we can place higher."

Dodge said the experience of coaching has been a gratifying one because he got the chance to reconnect with his love of wrestling while sharing his love of the sport with other wrestlers in the community. He has continued working with the students during the offseason, and will be back coaching next season if at all possible.

"All the students tell me they want me back," he said. "The other coach wants me back. I'll definitely be back if I'm not deployed."

Being able to watch the sport again, and see the drive of the athletes is an awesome experience, said Dodge. What impresses him most is the discipline and dedication of the athletes at NPHS.

"One of the wrestlers asked to train with me in the offseason," he said. "Not every athlete, in any sport, has the dedication to practice year round, but to see that is inspiring. It feels good to back into wrestling and help these guys out."

Working with the student athletes in the local community was special to Dodge because the school explicitly requested for help from the base, he said.

"(Wrestling) is a big deal to me," said Dodge. "If they didn't have a coach at all, the season could have been ruined, but it turned out really good. All the wrestlers took to me well, and it was awesome to get a chance to get back into wrestling while reaching out to the community."

In his acceptance speech at West Point Academy Gates talked about the relationship between the service member and society, and the danger of a society with a staunch military-civilian divide. Coordinated efforts of selfless volunteerism like Dodge's at a local high school can go a long way to either establish or re-fortify positive relations between a military community and their civilian countrymen.

By dedicating his free time, approximately 16 hours a week for several months, Dodge was able to assist and possibly rejuvenate local school athletic program in need of help. As Thomen wrote:

"We probably would not be talking about even wrestling next year without the addition of Trent Dodge."