Marc Silva grew up in southern Rhode Island spending lots of time on his great-uncle’s farm, riding the milk truck with his grandfather and helping out with the herd of 120 cows. “I always knew it was going to be a part of my life. Farming meant a lot to me,” he says. Marc studied dairy science and agricultural business in college, then worked at several farms in the northeast after graduation and also became active in the Farm Bureau.
But it was not until Marc was deployed with the United States Army more than 6,500 miles from home to Kandahar, Afghanistan that his resolve to farm became crystal clear.I always knew it was going to be a part of my life. Farming meant a lot to me Click To Tweet
In late 2011, the young man had decided to follow his brother’s example and enlist in the Army National Guard Active First program. The armed forces, he hoped, would offer leadership training and other valuable self-development skills. “I knew it would help ground me, give me some stability,” he explains. “I was jumping around from job to job and dealing with some personal stuff.” Marc was also happy to serve his country. “I love America,” he says, explaining that the conflict in the Middle East was winding down and he felt like this phase of U.S. military presence would be focused on helping stabilize the region.
During basic training, Marc found he was ahead of the game and he performed very well. “A lot of people would complain about having to get up early and eating fast. But I was used to that,” he explains with a chuckle. “When you’ve got to get the hay down or there’s a calf being born, you learn to scarf your food down and hightail it out of there.” Adjusting to deployment in Afghanistan was a little more challenging but there again, Marc found a connection to farming. The landscape was very different from home, of course, but he was pleasantly surprised to be posted in an agricultural area where large fields of wheat stretched out around the post. “That felt really nice and familiar,” he says.
While on watch duty, Marc recalls, “I’d spend 12 hours looking at the wheat fields and pass the time by building my dream farm in my mind. I was really doing mental exercises to keep myself awake and alert but it made me realize I really needed to get back to the farm.” He continued to meet very high standards, earning a promotion to sergeant in charge of 20 others. “They really recognized my work ethic from coming up on the farm,” Marc says. “I understand that you do what you have to do to make it work, that not every situation is going to be ideal.”
After nine months in Afghanistan and then serving out his initial three year commitment as a platoon sergeant in Fort Lewis, Washington, Marc returned to farming, eventually landing on a mutually beneficial position as herdsman for Bill Kilcer’s Windstott Farm in Genoa, New York, a two-man operation with a milking herd of 110. While, unfortunately, joining his family’s farm in Rhode Island was not an option because of lack of land expansion possibility, he explains, “I love farming in New York. There’s such an amazing diversity of agriculture.” He also still finds it as fulfilling as he always has. “At the end of the day, I have something to show for my work. I can mow hay and look behind me and see what I’ve done,” he says. “I can look in the bulk tank and see all that milk.”
Marc still does weekend National Guard trainings and looks back with pride and satisfaction on the experience he has had so far in the military, acknowledging that he has been fortunate to serve in a time of relative peace. “It was a great decision. I met great people from all different backgrounds and I definitely built up the leadership skills I was looking for. One of the main things I learned in the military is that if you want to be in a good place, in the end, it’s all up to you.”
Farmer and National Guardsman Marc Silva suggests that on Memorial Day, “Everyone just take a moment to think back on all the people who’ve made sacrifices for this country. I try to do what I can to honor that tradition. And not everyone can serve by putting on a uniform,” he points out. “We can also honor those who serve in other ways.”
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).