Sgt. 1st Class Willie Justice Jr. poses for a photo outside the Indiana National Guard armory Friday. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

Sgt. 1st Class Willie Justice Jr. poses for a photo outside the Indiana National Guard armory Friday. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

The new, local Indiana National Guard recruiter isn’t a stranger to the area.

Sgt. 1st Class Willie Justice Jr., 53, grew up in North Manchester, and after a military career that included service overseas, he’s glad to be back home.

Justice was born in West Virginia. His dad – who had worked in the coal mines – moved up here six months before his family did and took a job at Manchester Foundry.

“Then we moved up and I grew up right there in Manchester on the old-style values of growing a garden, and doing chores and if you wanted it, you’re going to earn it,” Justice said.

Right after graduating Manchester High School in 1987, he took a job at Dalton Foundry, working there for 10 years. While working at Dalton, Justice also was the associate youth pastor at Warsaw Missionary Church.

“I felt like God was telling me I needed to be more involved in my community, so I left Dalton and took a job at Manchester Metals with my dad, my uncles and three cousins and started at Christian Fellowship Church as their youth pastor, just to be more involved in my community,” he said. “I love small town America. There’s just nothing like it. Knowing the people that are your neighbors, and most of the kids at school, everybody gets along pretty decent.”

After working in the foundry for 25 years, Justice decided it wasn’t something he could continue to do long term. The job required him to lift 100 to 140 pounds 16 to 20 hours a day, and he was molding the old-style way – by hand.

He started looking online for a new job and saw that the National Guard had openings. He called the guy who used to work beside him in the foundry in June 2006.

“I started to ask some questions. And it’s funny because he said, ‘Hey, I’m going to hang up now because those guys are going to Iraq next year and I don’t want you doing this just because you’re mad at the foundry. So he tried to talk me out of joining the military. I thought that was unique,” Justice recalled.

Eight days later, Justice called him back and said he couldn’t commit to anything until October because he was teaching at a men’s retreat, but after that the door was wide open and he wanted to join.

Justice left for Military Infantry Processing Station (MIPS) in Indianapolis in October 2006. Twenty days later, on Nov. 14, he left for basic training, graduating in June 2007. By the end of the year, he was heading to Iraq with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry out of Warsaw.

After training for three months of training, they spent nine months in Iraq. “We did convoy security, so delivering supplies. We were on Joint Base Balad – the biggest base in Iraq. It’s also called the Anaconda on the Air Force side. So we would deliver to the smaller bases. So we would have eight or nine gun trucks, a wrecker and a fire truck, and I was the medic. So we would go from base to base at night and deliver mail and supplies and stuff to keep the smaller bases running,” Justice said.

His first tour was in 2008, and his last one was in 2015. In between, he volunteered for seven overseas missions, but for some reason all seven got cancelled.

“So, I believe God just had a plan,” Justice said.

His last tour in 2015 was with the 1313th Engineer Company as their senior medic. They ended up in Kuwait for most of that, he said, with minor trips into Iraq to build new bases.

“One of the guys I deployed with in 2008, we both volunteered because we thought we were going to Afghanistan. And when we landed in Kuwait, the Army’s like, ‘Surprise! You’re going to Iraq to build instead of Afghanistan to tear down.’ So we didn’t get to do what we planned to do together, but I believe God has a plan for everything,” Justice said.

After his last deployment, his wife told him she wanted him home because they had three teenage daughters and she wanted him home to help. Justice became a recruiter, a job he’s been doing since January 2016.

He started in Warsaw, recruiting Wabash County. The state restructured, so he went to Kokomo to recruit Wabash County. After another restructuring, he ended up in Fort Wayne, working out of Huntington, to recruit Wabash County. Now – full circle – he’s back in Warsaw with team South Bend to recruit Wabash County.

“That’s where I live (Wabash County), so I just like being involved in my community. I really believe in small town America, and I’ll recruit anyone in the state. I’m a recruiter for the state of Indiana, but my primary market is there,” he said.

Working out of Warsaw since July 1, his territory includes Warsaw, all of Wabash County and Peru High School.

“I’ve been all over Indiana pretty much,” he said. “I love to hunt and fish so I travel a lot to spend time in the outdoors.”

Anyone interested in joining the National Guard can contact Justice at 574-514-1039. He has his phone on him 365 days a year, even when he’s on vacation.

“I’m a workaholic, I will work all the time,” he said. “I really believe in customer service. So when I enlist a young man or woman into the National Guard – and it kind of sounds corny as my guys named themselves The Justice League – so I tell people you’re not just joining the military, you’re joining my family, The Justice League. So my phone is on day or night to take care of whatever you have questions or concerns about.”

The biggest benefit to joining the National Guard, Justice said, is if somebody wants to go to college and they go to a state school – IU, Purdue, Vincennes, Ball State, Ivy Tech, Indiana State – the National Guard pays 100% tuition to all of those schools, regardless of the job one does in the military.

“So for one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, you’re going to get a free education,” Justice said. “Right now, Indiana is offering – if you score at least a 50 on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) – a four-year college-first contract. And your four years doesn’t start until after you graduate training, so you’re guaranteed to be nondeployable or non-activated for four years so you can go to college and secure your degree.”

If a person has already been to school, the National Guard has up to $50,000 in student loan repayment “for somebody that wants to come in and work a part-time job. … They’ll also pay for a skilled-trades certificate,” he said.

The Guard has around 200 different jobs in Indiana, from carpenters, plumbers and secretaries to special forces. One of the biggest career fields in the world right now, he said, is cyber security, and the Guard has a joint base with Ivy Tech where a person can earn a two-year degree in 11 months with all the certifications.

To join the National Guard, a person has to be at least 17, a high school junior, with their parents’ concerns. A person can enlist up to 35 years old, though right now it’s possible to get a waiver up to 39.

Justice, who turned 53 in May, has 15 years in the National Guard and in 2020 did a six-year extension to get him to his 20 years. His goal, if he can make it that long, is to stay until he’s forced out at 62 with 24 years in the military.

“I really do love being able to help young men and women get a college degree or job skills. I don’t think people should go into debt to try to help set themselves up, so I love helping,” he said.

He and his wife, Christina, have been married for 24 years. His daughters are 33, 21, 19 and 17.