While a senior in high school Jim Wagner approached the United States Army. He was a student pilot at the local flight club at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California and had the dream of becoming an Army aviator. Immediately after graduating high school Jim Wagner applied for the WOFT (Warrant Officer Flight Program) at 18 years of age. After undergoing a written flight test, a three officer panel oral board, and a flight physical Jim Wagner was qualified for the program and his paperwork was submitted through the proper Army channels to Fort Rucker, Alabama by Army recruiter Staff Sergeant Smeltzer (Santa Ana District Recruiting Command). According to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Jim Wagner was to wait for his class date, in which case he would go in with the pay grade of E5 and attend flight school.
After a few weeks "in the holding pattern" Jim was told by his recruiter that the next WOFT class date could be approximately six months away, and that he had an idea. The idea was to get boot camp "out of the way, and probably AIT (Advance Individual Training) as well in order to get a secondary MOS (Military Occupational Specialty)" while waiting for the WOFT class date to be announced. Apparently SSG Smeltzer did not know that this would cause a foul up in the system. Jim Wagner took his recruiter's advice and was shipped off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina to attend Basic Combat Training (BCT) with Company D, 8th Battalion, 2nd Brigade.
In the sixth week of BCT the WOFT program personnel at Fort Rucker, Alabama contacted Jim's training Brigade in order to send his WOFT packet to back to him because they had assumed that he no longer was interested in becoming an Army aviator because he had enlisted as a Radio Operator. Jim immediately notified his recruiter back home who tried to fix the problem on his end.
Without the WOFT situation fixed Jim graduated from BCT and then was next shipped off to Fort Gordon, George to attend the Signal Corps' Radio Operator school with the MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) of 05B10. It was here that he learned how to operate field radios and set up communication systems in a combat environment. While engaged in his studies he also took a more proactive stance into getting into the WOFT program, but the problem remained and Jim Wagner graduated from his course with the Signal Corps and was then assigned to the HHC 43rd Engineer Battalion, Combat, Heavy at Fort Benning, Georgia. This was to be his duty station.
The responsibilities of Private (E-2) Wagner's position as Radiotelephone Operator (RTO) included:
1. Maintaining communications with higher headquarters and within the combat unit.
Just when Jim Wagner had come to believe that the Army had forgot about his petition the Army admitted their mistake, thanks to a little pressure brought upon by Jim's congressman back home, the honorable Robert E. Badham. Through his Battalion commander Private Jim Wagner was given the choice of reapplying for the WOFT program, with no guarantees of entering within the remaining years of his service, or receiving an Honorable Discharge. Jim took the second option.
Jim Wagner said, "I wanted to stay in the Army and become a helicopter pilot, because that is what I had been training for in high school. I was a student pilot who had already soloed. However, I was not going to stay in the Army just for the sake of staying in. I am a goal oriented person, and at 18 years old being in a combat unit was not in my plans. I enjoyed it, but that was not why I joined the Army. I am also a fighter, and when my recruiter's word was not kept I took on the United States Army. I didn't care how big or how powerful they were, at the time I was angry. I didn't blame the whole Army, but I blamed a few individuals in the Army. In the end I lost, because I did not become a pilot, and the Army lost also, because they would have had a dedicated aviator for several years. Yet, God had other plans for me and it led me in a direction I never dreamed of."
Jim's time in the service was only five years after the Vietnam War, but it was quite an interesting time for United States military. While Jim was in the service the Iranians had American hostages held in Tehran, and it was out with President Jimmy Carter and in with President Ronald Regan. This was the Cold War. This was also a very turbulent time in Central America.
Private Jim Wagner and his unit were pulled out of bed one early morning while it was still dark and told to get into full combat gear. "Boys, we're all going to El Salvador!" the company commander barked out. Recalling that event Jim Wagner said, "I remember we had to load jeeps and equipment onto train cars, and the C130s were all reving up their engines on the tarmacs. We all thought we were going to war, but after three days we stood down. President Regan had got what he wanted without military intervention." Yet, despite the lack of conflict at the time, the military was a defining moment in the way that Jim would approach the martial arts later on in life. It was to plant the seeds of reality-based concepts.
"Although I did not get exactly what I wanted from the Army, that is to be an Army Aviator, I did get some valuable training. I received my Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, and then went onto Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and then finally to my permanent duty station with the 43rd at, Fort Benning, Georgia," Jim recalled. "I was 18 years old at the time. I was young and at a complete loss when my aviation career got dashed. Thinking about a military career or a martial arts career was the last thing on my mind at the time, although I did give some private martial arts lesson to interested soldiers. Yet, little did I know back then that I would one day be training not only U.S. Army units, but the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard as well. Then, I would find myself once again enlisted in the military as a middle aged man, and teaching combatives and combat tactics to soldiers."