With four decades of unwavering service to the United States, retired CW3 Douglas Huggins is a stalwart figure of courage and dedication, standing as a testament to the resilience and sacrifice ingrained in the heart of every warrior.

His story started on a farm.

“I basically ran away from home to enlist in the military,” he laughed.

As Huggins described it, growing up in pre-Disney Florida in the 1950s and 1960s—there was a whole lot of farmland and not much else. His family had citrus trees, watermelons, tomatoes, and cantaloupes. Being the first-born son, he was expected to take over the farm and care for the family living on the acreage.

“I had an uncle who was in the military, and he kept telling me if I wanted to see the world or have money for an education, the military was the best way to do it. All I had ever seen was the back end of farm equipment, and that was mules,” he explained.

It was an easy choice, and Huggins made his way to the Navy recruiter after graduating from high school. Chosen for the silent rate, he spent eight and a half years in cryptologic services but was disguised as a boatswain’s mate. Thankfully, his years of experience driving boats on the water in Florida paid off.

“I listened to communications and worked with top-secret transmissions back and forth from the command level with war instructions, among other things,” he shared. “That was my Vietnam experience, sitting off the coast. I was one of the Blue Water Navy guys.”

To continue his cover as a BM, Huggins would routinely drive small boats into Vietnam filled with America’s most elite SEALs and Green Berets. But it wasn’t the most dangerous thing he went through.

Huggins was lying in his berthing area rack one night but couldn’t sleep because the sailors above him were lobbing shells over to Vietnam to cover entry points. He left to go do some work when the gun mount above his bed exploded. The guys below died immediately when the floor blew out.

It was a hard season, but he took it as a sign to keep serving because they couldn’t.

Because of the high need for his skill, Huggins was either in training or underway deployed on ships. Anytime he requested a shore assignment, it was denied. By this time, he was monitoring Russian communications, and America was in the middle of the Cold War. Wanting a chance to go to school but not wanting to hang up his uniform completely, he moved into the Navy Reserve.

When his Navy unit was moved too far to financially make sense to continue drilling, Huggins decided to make yet another change.

“At the Army Reserve unit, the recruiter took a peek at my service record and said, ‘Oh, yeah, we got a job for you.’ They had communications security doing work for their Airborne guys and Green Berets. The Army had their arms opened wide for me,” he said.

He traded his blue camo for green and for 10 years was in and out of active duty to support various conflicts while eventually earning his master’s from East Carolina University. Grenada, Panama, and eventually, Desert Storm. It got to the point where though illegal, his employer found a reason to let him go. A friend convinced him to become a warrant officer and go active, for good.

Huggins had a knack for electronics and was quick to pick up the newest technology: computers. Base to base, his certifications grew, and he quickly became the sought-after teacher. While the world panicked over everything crashing in the dreaded “Y2k,” he and his team built the system that saved the Army’s information.

“From December 15 until almost midnight on December 31 in 1999, which was the critical day hour—I probably didn’t sleep more than two hours a night,” he recalled.

By 2001, he was traveling the world training Army brass on the Blackberry and communications when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed everything.

“We went from being completely Russian-focused and all of our enemy interceptions, analyses, and everything to laser-focused on the Middle East. The problem was we didn’t know jack squat about the Middle East,” Huggins said. “We were totally helpless, that was one of the single biggest failures of our intelligence services because we ignored those terrorist groups for all those years.”

He was on the ground in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom I and II.

“The whole time I was there were multiple rocket and mortar attacks on the bases from the insurgents,” he added.

One of those blasts had him thrown against the side of a concrete bunker. In those days, attention wasn’t really given to invisible wounds. To hear him describe it, if you weren’t shot, you were given ibuprofen and told to carry on.

“It got worse and worse; it was hard to focus or think. I didn’t realize I had a concussion and a traumatic brain injury,” he said.

While he was at the Polytrauma unit completing rehab, his wife at the time informed him she hadn’t signed up to be a caregiver and ended their marriage.

“Honestly, I was so doped up on painkillers and whatever else they put me on I barely realized what was going on. I met my wife Alice later on, and she helped me navigate the VA process,” he shared.

Huggins was diagnosed with severe TBI, PTSD, bipolar disorder, dementia from the TBI, chronic sinusitis, sleep apnea, and hearing loss. The TBI has caused issues related to motor skills and movement as well and toxic exposure also led to issues with his prostate, requiring him to wear incontinence pads.

Thankfully, Attends partners with the VA making these products free of charge for veterans in need. They were created with dignity in mind and offer not only discretement but ease of use. It’s something he remains grateful for.

In 2009, Huggins retired from the Army after 40 years of combined service. For the man who joined to see the world, he did all of that and then some. When asked if he would do it again, considering the personal sacrifice it caused, his answer was swift and unyielding.

“In a heartbeat. I’m grateful every single day that I had a chance to serve my country and though my journey caused some challenges it’s still the best thing I ever did,” he said. “America is worth it all.”