After being deployed in southwestern Afghanistan since January 2019, Holmes alumnus and Mississippi Army National Guard pilot Clayton Pickle returned home in November to a special surprise.
Pickle’s dad, Gerald, brought his son’s truck to Collision Repair Technology instructor Casey Caldwell on Sept. 11 and asked him to get the 2004 Toyota Tacoma fixed up before his son returned home from serving the country overseas. Caldwell and the Goodman students did just that, fixing dents and repainting the entire outside of the truck.
Pickle, Chief Warrant Officer 3 with the G Co 1-168 General Support Aviation Battalion, said he knew his dad was going to get something done to the truck but was pleasantly surprised with the results.
“It was a huge surprise,” Pickle said. “Dad and I talked about getting the truck painted. Next thing you know when I come back it’s got a new paint job on it. These guys did an excellent job. It saved me the headache of having it done when I got home, and I’m not out a vehicle for two weeks while it’s being done somewhere.”
“It was definitely that obvious,” he said of the work. “It looked terrible when I left. He told me toward the end that he got the truck painted. It wasn’t a total surprise. I was surprised how amazing the body work was. These guys did great.”
“The truck was pretty straight,” Caldwell explained. “There were a few dents and dings in it. Nothing really serious. The clear coat had oxidized and was coming off.”
“Really what we did was a lot of sanding and went around and fixed what dents and stuff we could find on it,” he said. “They wet-sanded on it for two days. I tried to teach them the hard way to do it before they learn the easy way to do it. Everybody had soggy socks.”
After sanding, Caldwell said they added three coats of base and two coats of clear before putting it back together. “It wasn’t a very difficult job,” he said. “But it did make the truck look a 100 percent better.”
The Canton native and resident graduated from Holmes in 2004 and was a member of the band and also helped with drama productions on the Goodman Campus. After Holmes, he went to Mississippi State University and majored in mechanical engineering before changing degrees and graduating with an industrial technology degree.
During his 19 years in the military, Pickle said he’s been on three different deployments; one in Kosovo and two in Afghanistan.
Pickle ended his visit with the students by explaining avenues for employment in the U.S. Army and Mississippi Army National Guard.
“The sky’s the limit,” Pickle said. “You are going to get out what you put in it. I’m just up here saying thank you and let me tell you about me and what else is out there. I’m not a recruiter by any means.”
“What you are learning in here transfers to a lot of different fields,” Caldwell said. “You don’t have to come out here and be a body technician. You could be. I enjoy it, and I love doing it. You could work on helicopters and airplanes which is pretty cool. Don’t lock yourselves into one mindset.”
Pickle presented Caldwell and the class with a U.S. flag and certificate of appreciation from the C Co 1-171st General Support Aviation Battalion. The flag was flown in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter flown by Pickle on Sept. 23 in Helmand Providence, Afghanistan.
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