Capt. Kirk Appletoft is a model American soldier.
In less than a decade in the U.S. Army, the former Columbia County resident has spent more time deployed to foreign countries than on U.S. soil.
A twist of fate landed Appletoft's face as one of three people representing the American soldier, honored collectively in Time magazine's Dec. 29 issue.
"It was an honor being able to represent all the men and women in service," Appletoft said during a recent telephone interview from Philadelphia, where he now lives.
The last time Time honored the military in its annual person of the year issue was in 1950, when the "American Fighting Man" was named for efforts and innovations in the Korean War.
Army Capt. Kirk Appletoft
Appletoft began his journey toward the military in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Evans High School. After graduation in 1989, he attended the University of Georgia for more ROTC experience and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, which he earned in 1994 before entering the Army.
Trained to deal with Patriot missiles, Appletoft was assigned to anair defense artillery unit and four years in Germany. After two, five-month deployments to Saudi Arabia and two short rotations is Israel, Appletoft returned to Fort Bliss, Texas, in February 1999.
From February through June 2003, Appletoft was stationed in Kuwait, where he earned the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service.
"At the time, I was in command of a unit with 128 people in it," Appletoft said. "So when we deployed, I was the commander of that unit. I deployed everybody there and came back without loss of life or property."
Appletoft, the son of Alvin and Linda Appletoft of Martinez, joined the military like his father, who retired from the Army in 1981.
The elder Appletoft was excited to see his son representing the military in the national news magazine.
"It makes me feel terrific," he said. "We are real proud of him. I feel like we do (have a lot to be proud of)."
Appletoft said he was surprised about being chose to represent his peers.
"I wish I could say I went through some rigorous screening process in order to get that honor," he said "The fact of the matter is I just got lucky enough to move in right next door to the artist."
Bo Bartlett, the artist, watched Appletoft come and go in his uniform for months. In December, he asked Appletoft to sit for him, but could not reveal exactly what the piece was for.
"For me, the biggest honor, even though I was representing all the men and women in the services, is the patch that is on my shoulder in the portrait, (which) is the 32nd AAMDC (Army Air and Missile Defense Company), which was one of the biggest stories of the war, of course, the 507th Maintenance Company," Appletoft said. "They were actually one of my sister units at Fort Bliss. So, it was nice being able to get that patch out there."
The Army offers commanders a chance to do something different, so Appletoft asked to teach ROTC. He instructs first-year cadets from several Pennsylvania and New Jersey universities.
"The operational tempo is a lot more relaxed than I have ever been used to in the Army," Appletoft said. "I definitely like it.
"Being a soldier, I am honored to be able to serve in the military as well as having the honor of being a commander of America's sons and daughters."
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