Arin Canon doesn’t utilize the parking spot reserved for veterans at Southwestern Community College’s Public Safety Training Center.
The retired Army Ranger doesn’t have a whole lot to say about the silver star he earned while serving in Afghanistan.
His athletic stride conceals the fact he’s an amputee, and most of his fellow recruits in SCC’s National Park Service-Park Ranger Law Enforcement Academy (NPS-PRLEA) have no idea they’re training alongside a genuine American hero.
“It’s unreal for me to look at him and know what he’s been through, and what he’s seen,” said Kristopher Roberson, age 31, who’s originally from Southeastern Missouri. “You can obviously see from the outside that he’s lost a limb in battle, but it’s just so impressive to see the way he goes through all of our physical training. He just never gives up, and you’d never know he’s gone through anything.”
SCC has held more than 100 law enforcement academies for the Park Service since 1978. Canon is the most highly decorated military veteran ever to enroll, according to Zach Dezarn, Southwestern’s NPS-PRLEA coordinator.
That made the decision to name Canon as the “Class Sergeant” – the highest rank available in the class – an easy one.
“What I find so unique about the situation is how accomplished Mr. Canon is, but yet still while being so humble,” Dezarn said. “His experience and training levels are far beyond those of his peers, yet he still treats them with dignity. He coaches and works with them and has been an asset to the class … It’s a pretty special situation we’ve got with this academy.”
During his 26-year military career, Canon rose to the rank of sergeant major – the highest enlisted rank.
The Silver Star medal is one of the highest awards for valor that can be bestowed on a member of the U.S. Military. Canon received his for actions he took during his first rotation to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11.
“There was an incident where we had a Navy SEAL who was separated from his team, and I was one of the leaders of the quick reactionary force that went in to rescue him,” Canon said. “At that point in the war, it was the longest sustained combat that the U.S. had been in since Mogadishu. I hate to sound cliché, but it was kind of a ‘baptism by fire’ for us as people and us as a nation.”
Canon began his military service after graduating from his Florida high school in 1996, and his first assignment was to the 1st Ranger Batallion in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
His first deployment was in December of 2001, and he continued along in Army Special Forces command for the last 24 years of his military career.
His deployments were to the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
“That’s as deep into that as I can get,” he said.
Asked how he feels about the state of the country he’s served, protected and defended for the better part of three decades, Canon said: “I’m as red-blooded as an American can be. The things we have to keep in perspective are that we have access to information at a greater rate and accessibility that no one else has ever had in history. So I don’t think things are vastly different from previous times in our history. I just think it’s more in our face. The more that we look inward and take care of our neighbors, and affect the things you have control over and let that ripple out – the better off we’ll be.”
Canon injured his lower right leg on a battlefield in 2008 and continued to operate for another decade despite the pain and physical limitations that followed.
Finally, in 2018, he underwent an amputation to remove the injured portion of his leg below the knee. He now uses a prosthetic, which has actually bolstered his mobility. He starts working out at 5 a.m. daily and does a full Crossfit training as well as physical therapy before undergoing the academy’s rigorous daily regimen.
His perseverance and humility inspire fellow recruits like Roberson.
“It just keeps you striving for more and lets you know that when you get in a situation, you are never out of the fight,” Roberson said. “I mean, look at Canon and all the stuff he went through. I feel like if we (fellow recruits) are ever in a fight for our lives in the real world, he’s probably somebody who’s going to pop in our minds and be like, ‘You’re not out of it. Get up.’ He’s just a really good role model and mentor throughout this class.”
Now 45, Canon retired from a 26-year military career this past summer. Soon after, he enrolled in Southwestern’s Park Ranger academy.
“There are certain people that have a calling and find that they have a knack for something,” he said. “And also, I’m not the ‘sit in a cubicle’ or ‘sit on the front porch’ guy. My sons (ages 5 and 7) are both young, so the ability to be in beautiful, idyllic nature settings while being a benefit to the Park Service and letting my sons grow up in that environment is appealing to me.”
He has high praise for the training SCC provides at the Public Safety Training Center.
“(Southwestern’s NPS-PRLEA) is top-notch,” Canon said. “I’ve been involved in some other locations and other schooling, and I think the passion of the instructors here – and the facility – are all in the top level of what I’ve experienced before.”
Likewise, members of Southwestern’s Public Safety Training team have been pleased to have with Canon’s background participating as a recruit.
“Our team is always honored to serve those who serve,” said Curtis Dowdle, SCC’s Dean of Public Safety Training. “We are especially honored to serve our veterans. Having a recruit in our academy of Mr. Canon’s caliber is humbling and inspiring, not only for other recruits, but our PSTC Team as a whole as to our mission in delivering “Excellence through Training” to our public safety professionals.”
For more information about Southwestern and all the programs it offers, visit www.SouthwesternCC.edu, call 828.339.4000 or drop by your nearest SCC location.
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