Voices of Veterans: Kevin Devine

During the 2023 Indigenous Peoples Day celebration, Kevin Devine spoke about the fortitude of indigenous warriors in American tribes and how their skills formed the basis of defense tactics in the U.S. military. —Dena Porter

Kevin Devine spent nearly three decades in the Army, and served in many regions of the world. He currently serves on the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribal council.

I was born and raised out here on the Vineyard, and I left when I was 20, 21 years old. I went into the military for 28 years, and came back a couple of years after that. After 30 years of being gone, I came back and got involved with the [Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah)] and ran for office. Here I am serving as a councilman now with the tribe. I’m two years in now.

Eleven Bravo was my MOS [military occupation speciality]. I was an infantryman by skill set. It was 1992, so just prior to my 21st birthday I joined — a couple of months prior. I [poured] foundation before going in.

[Joining the Army] was something that I always wanted to do. I knew that was going to be something that I did. Initially, I was going to join the Marine Corps. I was dead set on that; I studied everything to do with the Marine Corps. I had a good friend — actually a friend of the family and a friend of mine — who was a couple of years older than me — Rick Bernard was his name. He was the past commander for the VFW, he served in the 82nd Airborne Division, jumping out of planes. It was right after Panama. He jumped into Panama in 1989. He was home on leave one time in ’90, ’91, and he told me a bunch of stuff about jumping out of planes. Another guy was Joey Wurdell, he was an Airborne Ranger. That just got me dead set on being an Airborne Ranger. So I ended up going to the Army recruiter and said I wanted to be an Airborne Ranger and the rest is history.

It was great. I loved every bit of it, even the bad times. It’s given me just a bunch of opportunities. I’ve been to 59 countries, and the majority of those were due to the fact I was in the military. I traveled to a lot of places, had a lot of fun. I did a bunch of deployments. The only regret I had was the time I spent away from my family and my kids. But it was phenomenal, man. The good times outnumbered the bad, easily. I’ve made a lot of great friends, too.

I always say the best time I had in the military was when I was stationed in Italy. I got to travel all over Europe and Africa — that was another one of our regions — but just the time over there was a lot of fun, and by far the best time I had. Alaska was great, too. I love hunting and I love being in the outdoors. That was another great spot for me.

I ain’t gonna lie, [transitioning to civilian life] was hard. It was extremely hard. I sit here and I kind of wish I stayed in longer. I missed the camaraderie and the type of people who are in there. You have just a bunch of folks who are type A personalities, and everybody’s got the same common goals and want to accomplish the same things. They’re all results-oriented, driven. Coming out of the military, you know, it’s a whole different world. And again with the camaraderie, it’s just a different place for folks to be around. When one person’s miserable, another person’s miserable. Just the teamwork aspect of things, it was just a great place to be in, and I really struggled coming out … I took six months off. I didn’t do anything for six months at all, and I knew I wanted to do something. I needed to find a new purpose. It was a hard struggle for me. When you do something for the better half of 28 years, it’s hard to adjust.

One of my best buddies, we’ve been friends for 30 years, he got out after four years, and he wished he stayed in. He missed every part of it, too. It’s a hard adjustment for a lot of people.

[Being with family] is definitely a plus. I’ve got grandkids now. I’m making up for lost time right now. A lot of reconnecting.

I was so detached from anything tribal while I was in the military. You know, it wasn’t intentional. I think I would’ve been more involved if I had the ability to do that. Like I said before, I was so detached and so focused on the military, I didn’t pay attention to what was happening tribally or culturally. It kind of prevented my kids from getting involved as well. I just missed out on a lot. But I’m relearning things, and I’m learning a whole lot of other things as well, from a lot of our elders, and even our young folks who’re culturally experienced and who have a lot of knowledge.

I’ve been to a lot of locations conflictual-wise. But my first 10 years in the military, it was a peacetime military. We had minor engagements in Haiti and Bosnia and Kosovo. Those were small-time things. Once the things that happened based off 9/11, that’s when everything shifted. We started getting involved in a lot of Middle Eastern countries. But, yeah, Afghanistan, Iraq, some other locations … I’ve been pretty involved with that stuff. I’ve done multiple tours in those locations.

There’s always going to be a culture shift, you know? Times change … World War II generation folks, they have their thoughts on how the military changed and how culture shifted. Vietnam vets probably think the same thing. There’s always going to be culture shifts. Everybody’s going to have their opinions if it’s good or bad. We’ll see how it turns out. There’s definitely changes in the military now since I’ve been out, with some of my buddies, some of my soldiers that I had in the past, that are high-ranking leaders today. It’s a different world. They’re focused on different things. Cybersecurity is a big thing — we’re pretty vulnerable in that realm of things — and the world’s a crazy place right now. We’ve got a bunch of folks out there trying to do us harm. China’s a big threat, North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria. There’s some high-powered ding-dongs out there in the world, and they don’t like us. We just got to stay vigilant and stay with the times, and that’s what’s going to change military culture, with what’s going on in the world.

There’s a recruitment problem in all branches, and this culture shift may be the problem. The media portrays a lot of things and puts stuff out there. I don’t know what’s preventing people from joining the military. Based off of my experiences, I’m hoping folks will join, and have the same experiences that I did. Again, there are going to be bad times. I don’t know how many times in the past I’ve thought about getting out of the military because of something pissing me off. But at the end of the day, whatever it was that pissed me off in the past, it wasn’t enough to make me get out. I just hope some folks start rethinking some things, and get out there and serve in the military, and protect and serve this great nation.

Interview by Eunki Seonwoo.