Story by Terrance Bell on 03/02/2017FORT LEE, Va. (March 2, 2017) -- Ask Chief Warrant Officer 5 Gabino Seda about his time in the rigger career field and the now-retired Soldier comes off rather formal "Served 36 years ... logged more than 400 jumps tested various parachute and airdrop systems ensured troops were trained ."
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Inquire about what it took to accomplish those feats, however, and the formalities cease, a tad of emotion emerges and he goes into detail about boat building in his native Puerto Rico.
Boat building in the sunny Caribbean?
One could easily connect the activity with a self-presented gift following a successful stint in the Army.
Not even close, but more on that later.
The 58-year-old Seda, who celebrated his retirement Wednesday, closed out his career as senior airdrop advisor for the Quartermaster School's Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department. He has served all over the world in various capacities and has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Honduras. In retrospect, he said he feels a sense of accomplishment.
"I feel good about the significant changes that have been made," noting his input into the many improvements to airborne equipment, procedures and policy over the past decade, "and the changes I was able to make for the better in every unit and command I was assigned."
Seda's path to the Army's airborne community might be considered non-traditional. He was a high school biology teacher who wanted to do something different and figured jumping out of planes was the fix. He received airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., and later headed to Fort Lee for rigger school.
"From the moment I got here and got exposed, I found that unique mix of camaraderie, discipline and challenge," he recalled. "I said I want to be part of this, to be successful at it and enjoy this as long as I can.'''
Seda, who transitioned to the the Warrant Officer Corps in 1992, eventually became the most senior airdrop systems technician in the Army and, by default, the Department of Defense. He went on to serve with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C.; Southern European Task Force, Italy; U.S. European Command, Germany; U.S. Central Command, Kuwait; U.S. Forces-Korea and Eighth Army, South Korea; and U.S. Army Pacific Command at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
While Seda was hard-charging in aircraft hangars all over the world and impacting his career field, he also was managing hardships. In 1995, his wife was killed in an auto accident, leaving him the single parent of four school-aged children. To compound the situation, he was the shop officer for a unit where the duty day started and ended in darkness.
"I dealt with that until 1998," said Seda, noting his second wife helped to raise his kids and his family managed mostly without him. "Nothing comes without sacrifices. I spent a great amount of time away from home; I missed countless birthdays, anniversaries and soccer games. You name it."
Seda also had been dealing with what he thought were unfair assessments of his work. He said he dramatically decreased accidents and substantially reduced the work backlog among other accomplishments in a five-year stint as shop officer. By most accounts, he would have received a Meritorious Service Medal for his performance.
Instead, his work was only good enough for an Army Commendation Medal.
A stinging insult to someone who took on every opportunity to excel, Seda said the ordeal the insult and the recourse to fight it was devastating. It never pushed him, however, to the edge of becoming embittered or vengeful.
"It only made me stronger," he said, his trembling voice an indication the pain remains fresh. "All the hard work I did; the only satisfaction I got out out it was that I worked out to be a better person, better man and better officer."
To Soldiers such as Sgt. 1st Class Scott Mitsuno, who was assigned with Seda in South Korea, his hardship was invisible; overshadowed by his desire to teach, coach and mentor in addition to his vast knowledge and expertise in his chosen craft.
"He's a rigger god," said the ADFSD operations division noncommissioned officer in charge. "Hands down, I think I'm one of the most knowledgeable senior NCOs in the rigger field, but I can't even get close to Chief Seda's capabilities. His ability to test, question on the spot, maneuver and assess the situation with the Soldiers he leads is amazing."
Those abilities was largely responsible for Seda's promotion shortly after his shop officer assignment. He also went on to earn a long list of accolades and awards to include an impact Bronze Star in Operation Iraqi Freedom and an assignment as the senior airdrop advisor with U.S. Army Pacific, one of the largest commands in the Army.
On his assignment with ADFSD, Seda said his job is to "ensure every rigger leaves here with the greatest understanding of what it is to be a rigger." He seemed particularly proud of how much better trained riggers are today compared to just a few years ago.
"The way we teach our students today, wherever they are assigned, to include special operations units, they will be able to function from day one," he said, noting students are now exposed to free-fall systems used by special operators. "Today's riggers leave here with a level of expertise even experienced riggers don't have because they were never exposed to the newer systems."
Making sure Soldiers can perform their missions has been the impetus for much of Seda's career, despite the fact it has not always been easy. He acknowledged teaching and impacting Soldiers is something he will miss. "It has been something very, very close to my heart," he said.
Boat building has also been close to his heart not the variety that evokes leisure and scenes of a turquoise horizon but his father's old world craft and the associated toil and struggle of his upbringing in Arroyo, Puerto Rico.
"He was a fisherman with a fifth grade education and no formal training," Seda said of the late Elpidio Seda. "He learned to build his own fishing nets and boats.
"As a young kid living in a very small town back in the 60s, in an old wooden shack with about six or seven of us there at the time, he used to make templates out of cardboard to make the ribs of the boat."
Seda said he and his siblings would go to the woods and "find the right tree and put the template against the branch, cut the branch, take it home and cut every single rib by hand to build the boat."
The work was tedious and exhaustive and attention to detail was essential, said Seda, his eyes and voice expressing hardships beyond what his words could articulate. In retrospect, boat building prepared Seda for the rest of his life.
"It pushed me," he said. "Everything that I've done in my life, including today, I have done to the best of my ability because that was embedded into me by my father at a very young age ... He gave me the desire and drive to go one step further; do your job to the best of your ability.'"
In short, it was boat building that made Seda a better Soldier, one who eventually earned the highest position in his career field; and one who having survived his impoverished childhood was well prepared to navigate the often turbulent storms of an Army career.
Seda and his wife Injeong have plans to relocate to Orlando, Fla., for his retirement.