Simmons trades in combat boots for cotton swabs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Since he was a child, Ferriday resident and former National Guard SPC Billy Simmons Sr. has wanted to give back to those who live in the country he loves.

Simmons, 38, joined the National Guard in 1990 and spent his early adult life prepared to play a role in America’s war efforts if he was needed.

After six years of service, Simmons returned to civilian life to become a licensed practical nurse at Heritage Manor Health & Rehabilitation Center in Ferriday.

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Simmons said he’s always felt a calling to the field of medicine, even when he was becoming a specialist in the areas of truck driving and storage and handling.

Since serving in the guard, Simmons has dedicated the last 12 years of his life to taking care of the patients at the rehabilitation center.

The drive to pursue medicine and help people stems back to Simmons’ childhood.

While the household he grew up in was poor in terms of money, Simmons said the love and support he received from his family — especially his single mother of six — created a drive within him to do something big with his life.

And at the age of 17, the National Guard offered Simmons an opportunity he just couldn’t refuse.

“Growing up, we were poor — real poor,” Simmons said. “I went to (Ferriday High School) and graduated with honors.

“(The National Guard) came to me and told me about the promising careers they had, and I decided to try it.

“My momma was glad. All she really required of us was to get our high school diplomas, but anything else we did, she was always supportive of.”

Simmons said one driving reason for joining was to take care of his family.

“I was trying to take care of a child,” Simmons said. “My drive was for my children and for them to have a better life than I did.”

Simmons graduated in 1990, and within weeks of receiving his diploma, he was in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood working on his infantry skills.

“I’d never shot a gun before then, but I wound up being one of the best,” he said.

It was during this time Simmons was bitten by the service bug, and as he excelled in the areas of grenades and rifles, he started to feel at home.

“I started loving it,” he said.

Simmons said while his dream was always to become a doctor, the longer he stayed in the guard, the more the idea of becoming a medic appealed to him.

With dreams of working in the medical field, Simmons’ next step in training was to go to Fort Lee in Virginia, and train for military occupational specialty operations in the area of truck driving.

As a truck driver, Simmons’ military occupational specialty training taught him how to drive in convoys, keep the men and materials he was transporting safe and the different tactics in war.

After training, Simmons served approximately three years at Camp Beauregard in Pineville, La., as a material storage and handling specialist.

Even during this time, Simmons felt the call to work in the medical profession.

Once Simmons left the service, he said he was able to combine the lessons he learned in a hospital setting with his desire to help people in a medical capacity.

“(The military) taught me discipline, and that we were fighting for a reason,” Simmons said. “You can’t accomplish anything if you’re divided. You have to stick together.

“That’s something I use in my nursing. You have to stick with your team.”

Through working with patients in the nursing home — some who served in past wars — Simmons said he has heard stories from past wars and the changes in war tactics is easy to see.

“That old army style is a lot different. They had it rougher than we have now,” Simmons said. “Some have said they’ve seen a lot of deaths — some have had to kill people. Some still are troubled by it.

“That’s one reason why I didn’t know how long I’d be able to stay in the service. I didn’t really want to take a life when my dream was to save one.”

Simmons said he hopes to continue making people’s lives better through his nursing career.

Currently, Simmons has three jobs and is in the process of filling out paperwork to pursue his registered nursing license.

From time to time, Simmons said the military bug comes back, but his wife, Kenya, and their son, Billy Jr., 5, and daughter Kenye, 3, keep him grounded.

“I thought about getting back in, but my wife wouldn’t let me,” Simmons said. “I do not have regrets in going (into the National Guard), I wish I could go back.”