This is part two of a four part series honoring our military men and women.
Ben Shute, 67, believes that he will never be “too old to serve.”
Shute joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 1971 at the age of 20. He was a student at Mississippi State University studying accounting at the time.
Shute was raised in the Vietnam War era, when the military relied on a draft. Both his brother and father had been military men. Shute’s lottery number was 110. The year he was drafted, the U.S. government called everyone with a lottery number up to 120 to go active duty, he said with a slight chuckle.
He spent much of the beginning of his career doing engineering work. He laughed as he remembered his first jobs in the Army as a wheel vehicle mechanic. The older soldiers would watch him as he would be working on a long line of cars and would not offer any help.
“Sometimes I would have six or seven cars lined up,” he said.
When he first enlisted in the Army Reserves, he was stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana for basic training. Within the few months of basic training, Shute was promoted twice. He came home as a Private First Class.
When he returned home to his native Carroll County, he enlisted with the First 114 Field Artillery Battalion in Greenwood and transferred into the National Guard. He had gotten lucky with the switch because another soldier had wanted to transfer into the Reserves at the time.
Shute said he had never been deployed overseas although he had always been willing to go. He remembered the build-up to Desert Storm, when his unit had been discussing deployment.
“On Monday, they said we were going, then on Tuesday they said we weren’t going and then on Wednesday we were going again.”
At the time, Shute explained, only parts of a unit were being requested. It went like that for about a week and then finally the National Guard Bureau said it would be “all or none,” Shute said. It ended up being none.
In 1994, more than 20 years after he had enlisted, Shute retired as a Major in the Mississippi National Guard. His branch had been field artillery.
Aside from his military duties, Shute was also sure to put his finance degree to use in the civilian world. He worked with the FDIC from 1981 to 2002. After his retirement, he dabbled in bank consulting work until 2015.
Now, Shute is a member of the Mississippi State Guard. He joined the force in April. Although the namesakes may be confusing, the State Guard is different from the National Guard. In fact, one of the only qualifications for the Mississippi State Guard is that the person not be currently enlisted in the active or reserve military or the National Guard.
Shute is on track to be promoted to Lt. Colonel in the State Guard soon.
Shute said he is most passionate about helping veterans these days. He wants to spend the rest of his life making sure that every veteran receives the benefits that they deserve. In August of 2017, he worked to co-found Veterans Helping Veterans. He was spurred to create the group after he discovered that his friend Paul Henderson was getting no VA benefits.
Henderson had served in Vietnam and had been shot twice, earning him a Purple Heart. Despite this, he was essentially living in poverty, Shute said. After making some phone calls and meeting with the right people, Shute was able to get Henderson his first check within 45 days.
“That’s my success story,” Shute said. But, there are many others with stories like Henderson’s.
“There’s a lot of veterans out there not getting their benefits and need them,” he lamented. “The cemetery is full of veterans that should’ve gotten benefits.”
It is for this reason, Shute says, that veterans are still worth fighting for.