JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Don Grindstaff’s dedication to his military career extends well beyond his time in the U.S. Marine Corps and Tennessee National Guard.
He’s no stranger to veteran organizations in the Tri-Cities. He served in the Marine Corps from 1972 to 1976 and then joined the Tennessee National Guard.
“I see people that want or need help, and they don’t know where to turn,” said Grindstaff. “And a lot of times I may not be able to help them, but they know they can call me.”
While actively serving, Grindstaff held several ranks.
“I progressed through the ranks. I was the sergeant in the Marine Corps, so I went into the Guard as a Sergeant E-5 and progressed through the ranks, and I retired as the E-9 Command Sergeant Major, which is the highest enlisted rank you can get,” he said.
Grindstaff was the Battalion Command Sergeant Major, which he said made him the spokesman of the soldiers to their commanders.
“We didn’t coddle them, but we made sure that their health and concerns were expressed,” he said. “[In total, I] commanded about 500 soldiers, two or three companies, depending on different times. But it was about 500 enlisted soldiers under the command.”
He was deployed to Desert Storm in 1991, serving in Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia and then Kuwait. After 29 years of service in the Guard, he spent a year with the Forest Service then got an offer to come back and run the Elizabethton and Johnson City armories while their units were deployed overseas.
“I was the rear detachment commander, basically, and reported to the commander. Of course, a lot of coordination with the troops that were overseas, anything they needed back here, families needed work,” Grindstaff said. “Those issues still work. Community issues, still had soldiers that didn’t deploy for different reasons.”
In 2010, he accepted a job with the Tennessee Guard as a Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator working with Gold Star families.
“Whether it’s through grief counseling or getting them involved in activities to keep them busy or applying for their benefits, it’s just the idea that you are able to help them,” he said. “We did a couple of things that I think were really neat while I was in that position. We partnered with [The Tri-Cities-Military Affairs Council], but we established a Gold Star Families Monument in Kingsport, Tennessee.”
Now, he’s part of the Tri-Cities-Military Affairs Council. He is part of the Johnson City Disabled American Veterans, working with them and the Elizabethton branch for monthly food distributions. He’s on the Association of the U.S. Army Tri-State Chapter, National Guard Affairs and the Local Retirees Association. He’s also very involved with Wreaths Across America.
“A lot of these veterans organizations, the population is aging in them, and I’m one of the younger ones at age 70, so it surprises me,” he said. “There’s not many young soldiers or service members that are coming in and a lot of these veterans organizations. So they’re struggling to get by and get things done. And I know I can still help.”
Grindstaff is also a part of several other organizations and is a 10-gallon plus Blood Donor as he has been donating blood for over 35 years.
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