Generations of service in the U.S. Navy is a difficult tradition to go against.

Trafalgar resident Dylan Garshwiler never questioned his place in his family’s legacy. His father served as a sonar technician, his grandfather was in World War II, and his great-grandfather was on a minesweeper in World War I.

“My father likes to think he forced me into it by telling me that I couldn’t cut it in his Navy,” he said.

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So Garshwiler followed his family’s lead in the military and in the process carved out a career of providing medical assistance both in and out of civilian life.

He has served 24 years in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve, stationed everywhere from New Orleans to San Diego, sailing the South Pacific and providing medical services to thousands of troops in the Middle East.

The medical training he received led him to become a registered nurse, helping take care of the sick and wounded in the civilian world just as he has for the military.

“I’m nothing special. I’m just a guy who wanted to serve my country and have some excitement,” he said.

Seeing the world

Garshwiler enlisted in March 1991, with the goal of seeing the world outside his hometown of York, Pennsylvania, and having a new set of experiences.

At the time, the Gulf War was coming to a close. Witnessing the U.S. military come together in that conflict only solidified his desire to join.

“I decided before that, but coming out of high school and seeing everything the armed forces were accomplishing was inspiring,” he said. “It added a lot of weight to my decision.”

Garshwiler wanted to become a doctor, but the only option his superiors gave him was as a hospital corpsman.

His first real assignment was in New Orleans, and that posting included a three-month stint in Cuba, where U.S. military was treating Haitian refugees who were fleeing their country following a military coup.

Another assignment took him to Bahrain, the Middle Eastern country that was serving as a supply and logistical outlet for U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.

‘I wanted to be on a ship’

After four years of service, he was back in New Orleans and had a decision to make: re-enlist or go home.

“Up to that point, I hadn’t been on a ship. I said that I couldn’t be a sailor if I’d never been on a ship, so I said I wanted to be on a ship,” he said.

Garshwiler extended his stint for two years and shipped out from San Diego on a training exercise with other allied countries through the South Pacific.

Life on a ship could be tedious — the same routine in the same cramped quarters over and over again. But the experience took him to places he had never dreamed of seeing, which was exciting, he said.

After the mission, he left the service and settled into his life as a civilian. But after about a year, he missed the order and structure of military life.

After moving to Indiana, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. He also served alongside a Marine division that saw some of the heaviest fighting in Fallujah and other battles during the Iraq War.

Garshwiler was headquartered at Al Taqaddum, an airbase taken over by U.S. forces that was turned into the main logistical base for much of Iraq.

“There never was any combat where we were, but they shot at us,” he said. “After 11 months, with all of those mortars and (rocket-propelled grenades) coming into the base, no one got killed.”

During his time in Iraq, Garshwiler participated in a number of humanitarian missions. The soldiers built a school in a nearby village and provided supplies and water to the people. Another assignment included unearthing the remains of Kuwaiti citizens who had been captured by Iraqi forces during the initial Gulf conflict, killed and buried in mass graves.

“We never got to see the reactions when the families finally got their loved ones’ remains back, but we felt pretty good about it,” he said.

After his stint in Iraq, Garshwiler was transferred to “blue side unit,” which was serving on ships on-shore. He joined the Seabees, with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 26 and was back in the Middle East in 2010 when his unit was sent to Kuwait.

As the major staging point for U.S. forces in the area, up to 5,000 troops would come through their base, Garshwiler said. He was in charge of the medical battalion aid station there for all of the people moving in and out. Often, that included taking injured or sick troops to specialists working off-base.

Education briefly interrupted

Garshwiler was taking nursing classes in 2009 when his unit was activated. When he returned to school a year later, he finished his requirements and received his registered nurse’s license in 2014.

He started working at Franklin United Methodist Community in January 2014 and recently took a new position as the care services manager at Christina Place in Franklin.

“(Registered nurses) are that line between the doctor and the care that patients need. They are there to be that interpreter, to show compassion, to be at the bedside when the doctor isn’t there,” he said. “We spend that extra time with them.”

Garshwiler will retire in August from a different Seabees unit, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25. He downplays what his service meant, recognizing that he’s just like the millions of other veterans who have stepped forward to protect the country.

“It’s what most of us do — we don’t know what to expect when we join the military,” he said. “We do it because we love our country, we love our families, and we do it so that they can be at home in peace.”

The Garshwiler File

Who: Dylan Garshwiler

Home: Trafalgar

Occupation: Registered nurse and care services manager at Christina Place in Franklin.

Service: 24 years in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve

Current unit: Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25

If you go

Here is a look at local Memorial Day events:

Franklin American Legionnaires are sponsoring a ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday on the lawn of the Johnson County courthouse in Franklin.

Terry Bayless, a Franklin resident and Vietnam War veteran, will speak, followed by a short program with a flag salute and the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterward, the Legion invites the public to attend a meal at the post, 1200 Park Ave., Franklin.

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.