WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service and sacrifice of former Army Ranger Damon Helton, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Helton grew up in Little Rock. He was the youngest of four kids and had a typical childhood, but his family’s commitment to service was present throughout his early years. Helton fondly remembers the close-knit community the military gave his father and is proud to have continued his family’s service.
“From the Civil War on, we’ve always served our country,” he said of his family’s history.
Helton graduated from J.A. Fair High School in Little Rock and briefly attended the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. After he decided college was not for him, he joined the military instead of returning home.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army on February 22, 2001 and, to the surprise of many, had an Army Ranger contract.
“I had a Ranger contract, so special operations. Dad loved it,” he said. “I can remember the rest of my family and all my friends, the look on their face of ‘you did what?’”
He trained at Fort Benning, Georgia and Fort Lewis, Washington. After a few months of service, Damon and his brothers-in-arms watched the attacks on September 11, 2001 unfold on live television.
“I remember just getting pissed off,” Helton said. “We were all looking at each other like…we’re going to war.”
Helton deployed to Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment in early February 2002. He recalls being eager to go on missions and reacting to the intelligence on the ground.
When he returned home from his first deployment, Helton received a warm welcome home from family, friends and even strangers. That same night, he met his future wife, Jana.
“Honestly, you know, people say the ‘love at first sight’ thing, it’s real,” he said.
Helton deployed to Iraq as a part of the initial Iraqi invasion in 2003. He recalled being more anxious before this deployment due to the potential of facing a more formalized fighting force like the Republican Guard, and the concern of confronting biological weapons.
During his four years of military service Helton deployed five times. He recalls the discipline and effectiveness of the Army Rangers and the positive influence his military training has provided in his civilian life.
“My work ethic comes from my military service,” he said. “In my mind, to this day, I still represent the Ranger Regiment in everything I do and I live the Ranger creed. That’s what’s carried me this far. That’s what’s helped me be successful.”
He discovered a passion for agriculture, which allowed him to mentally and emotionally recover from the side-effects of war. Helton is a member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Arkansas. With his farm and various business ventures, he is very active in the veteran agriculture community, but no matter how busy he is, he always has time to help a fellow veteran.
Helton and his family now call Benton home. He is quick to share the role his wife, Jana, played and continues to play in his life.
“Every great decision I’ve made and step forward in my life, Jana has been right there,” he said. She’s “the reason I’ve made it.”
“Damon Helton’s service in the U.S. Army, as well as his continued work on behalf of veterans, is an inspirational story of unyielding patriotism. Being an Army Ranger requires, above all, the fortitude to fight and complete the mission, and Damon has displayed this commitment time and time again. I am pleased to be able to collect and preserve his stories,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Helton’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.