Ross Dobelbower has always remembered something his drill instructor told him in boot camp in the 1990s: “You have to carry that pack every single day.” And he has.
Whether he was doing cold weather training in Norway, fighting in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan, leading a SWAT team in Texas or managing a crew for the nation’s largest collision repair companies, Dobelbower has always carried his rucksack with grit, determination, and pride.
Let’s take a look at where he – and it – has been.
Leg one: USMC
Military service was never really a question of “if” for Dobelbower, but “when?”
“I was that kid who walked into the Marine recruiting office and said ‘I want to enlist,’” said Dobelbower, who grew up in Texas and can trace his family’s lineage back to fighters in the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836.
As a child, he poured over photo albums belonging to his beloved grandfather – who served in World War II – and talked to his father and step-father about their service in Vietnam. His great-grandfather served in World War I.
“It was always at the forefront – the military—it’s always been there,” Dobelbower said.
He was so eager to join the military he thought about quitting high school, but when he found out the Marines required a high school diploma, he stuck it out until graduation.
Although his relatives had served in other branches, Dobelbower was most drawn to the Marines and remembers wearing USMC tee-shirts as a little boy.
“I didn’t want to half-ass anything,” Dobelbower said, about why he chose the Marines at 18.
His boot camp experience was everything he hoped it would be. He made good friends and enjoyed being there despite how tough it was (“those log drills broke me down.”) He spent eight years in the Marines as a reservist – years that took him to Norway twice and many bases around the country.
He got out of the Marines to dedicate all his time to being a police officer.
“And then 9/11 happened,” Dobelbower said.
Leg two: US Army
When the United States was attacked at home on September 11, 2001, Dobelbower, like so many veterans, was eager to re-enlist.
“I looked at myself and said, ‘I’m 31 years old, I have many many more years to give of good service,” Dobelbower said.
He went back to the Marines Corps and they said they’d take him, but wouldn’t reclassify him from his initial MOS (weapon systems repair).
“If I was going to serve I wanted to be pulling triggers, not fixing them,” said Dobelbower, who said ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ and went to see an Army recruiter in Dallas instead.
The Army was thrilled to have Dobelbower as a member of the Texas Army National Guard. He enlisted in 2002 as an E5 and served until this 2017 when he retired as a first sergeant.
“I was truly blessed to get into the National Guard into a unit like that,” said Dobelbower, who served with a small, tight-knit Brigade Reconnaissance Troop. He fought with them in Baghdad (2004) and Afghanistan (2010).
During his 2004 deployment, Dobelbower was part of a small, multi-national force that provided overt and covert protection to counterintelligence agents conducting source operations within Iraq.
“It was a crazy deployment,” said Dobelbower, who was in plain clothes and driving level 6 or local vehicles most of the time. “It was very stressful because what we were doing had never been done. One thing I’m very proud of is we had zero loss of life from my team with over 600 hours in the red zone in those vehicles.”
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for his Afghanistan tour.
“We left with sixty-six and came back with forty-eight who were ‘whole,’” Dobelbower said. “Some lost feet. We took a lot of IEDs and small arms fire.”
A close friend who was part of an eight-person group with Dobelbower that called themselves “The Ocho” committed suicide in 2012 due to PTSD. The group had successfully defended a small helicopter drop zone in the Ghazni province together against Taliban fighters.
“That was hard to lose one of those guys we were so tight with,” Dobelbower said. “The bonds – there’s nothing that compares. You can have a brother or a sister and you can be tight with them, but there’s nothing that compares to having served in combat with someday.”
Although Dobelbower earned many honors during his many years of service in the Army (including a Bronze Star), he is proudest of his combat infantry patch.
“I remember in ’02 being in awe of the Desert Storm guys who had their combat patch,” he said. Now he has his own.
Extra weight: Police Department
All the while Dobelbower was serving in the Army (and part of the time in the Marines) he was pulling double duty – wearing his rucksack on the streets of Pantego and Duncanville, Texas as a police officer.
“My law enforcement career was amazing,” Dobelbower said. “I loved every part of it.”
During his twenty-five, full-time years as a police officer, he tried everything his departments would let him, from the SWAT team to motorcycle patrol to school resource officer and hostage negotiator. He retired as a sergeant in May 2017 and retired from the Army a few months later.
“I got to the point I was stale,” said Dobelbower, about retiring from law enforcement. “I was only 47 and I still had plenty to give.”
Leg three: Caliber Collision
Even though he retired and was now a veteran of the military and law enforcement, Dobelbower wasn’t ready to put down his rucksack. Instead, he found a civilian company with the same values as him and brought his vast experiences there: Caliber Collision.
“I’m very passionate and truly love this company,” said Dobelbower, of Caliber Collision, the nation’s largest collision repair company. “They’re doing good things for veterans and first responders that are very near and dear to my heart.”
Dobelbower first learned about the company, which is based in Lewisville, Texas, from his wife, who also works there. He became a field supervisor for their Texas facilities upon leaving the Duncanville Police Department.
The company, which has 10,000 employees and 500 repair centers nationwide, offers many outstanding programs for veterans, including their Changing Lanes program.
Changing Lanes is a no-cost, 18-week career skills program for transitioning veterans that results in job placement opportunities across the country (upon successful completion). The company is also part of the 3M Hire Our Heroes campaign to help returning veterans find rewarding careers in the collision industry.
Additionally, Caliber has gifted nearly 130 vehicles their employees have refurbished themselves (on their off time) to military and other deserving families in need through their Recycled Rides program.
And, Caliber looks out for their own too – much like the military and law enforcement families Dobelbower has been a part of.
“It’s a family,” said Dobelbower, about the company, which sent team members to the homes of other team members affected by Hurricane Harvey to help with cleanup, repairs and to distribute needed supplies like diapers and water. “I haven’t seen it cold or corporate here in any way. It’s an amazing culture.”
Your own trek
Dobelbower is enjoying civilian life. He has a twenty-two-year-old daughter and is a newlywed.
“My wife: she’s helped me tremendously as a person to grow,” said Dobelbower, who acknowledged that (like many combat veterans) finding success in his personal life was more challenging than professional life.
He encourages veterans that may be going through challenging times emotionally to seek support from friends, family and/or veterans organizations.
“If you need help just reach out,” Dobelbower said. “There are plenty of resources out there.”
He stays in touch with buddies from throughout his entire military career (from boot camp to the National Guard) via Facebook and in-person and has found a community of veterans he cliques within the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.
The international, non-profit, motorcycle group’s motto is “veterans helping veterans,” and Dobelbower volunteers with the group at places like the Watkins-Logan Texas State Veterans Home in Tyler, Texas.
“They have some amazing stories if you just sit down and listen to them,” said Dobelbower, about older veterans. “I just love spending time with them.”
As proud and active as he is as a veteran, though, he cautions younger vets just getting out of the service not to let this be their only identity.
“Don’t let your military service define you,” he said. “Don’t be that disgruntled veteran. Take the toolbox you got from all your experience in the military – your combat tours, your leadership training – take all that and put it in your toolbox and take that to a civilian career.”
As accomplished as ones military service was when it comes to starting over in the civilian world, it’s important to have humility, he cautions:
No one cares if you were a first sergeant in the infantry. No one cares. They care that you have management skills, they care that you have organizational skills, all those things. They don’t care if you were an E6 humping the mountains of Afghanistan. They’re proud of your service, they appreciate you and they’d like to give you a job, but don’t let it define you. And know that when you go in, you’re at the bottom again…you’re going to have to do just what you did in the military. You start at the basement and through your efforts, which you’ve obviously, hopefully, have from your military service you can grow in that company and get to where you want to be.