SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Most people don’t brag about being old and Airman 1st Class Alex Cantone is no exception. But, as the oldest A1C at Sheppard AFB, and potentially the Air Force, the subject does come up.
However, Cantone is proving that a little salt has its value.
Two years ago, Cantone, an 82nd Medical Operations Squadron mental health technician, was at the top of his career, working as an independent contractor selling military components to the U.S. government; a coveted career among many active duty Airman. But Cantone felt a greater calling.
“Since coming to the United States 100 years ago, every generation of my family has served in the military,” Cantone said. “It was always something I wanted to do”. Unfortunately, this was not a goal Cantone was able to accomplish before his 27th birthday; the cutoff age for new recruits at the time.
While many would drop a dream, Cantone did not; instead, he continued to be involved. Cantone’s father introduced him to members of the American Legion, an organization devoted to U.S. war veterans. “The patriotism they have, the comradery they have is amazing,” Cantone said. “But there is a loneliness. If you go to any (American Legion) on any given Friday night, you’ll typically see a couple of quiet veterans sitting in a corner, not talking to anyone, drinking a beer or two.”
It was during this time that Cantone, who studied psychology in college, became aware of a public health crises among those who have served. “The mental health of vets is not what it should be.” Cantone said.
Despite this, Cantone would at times reflect on the opportunity it is to serve.
“When talking with those guys, you see what a unique experience you have. Many of them only served for 2 to 4 years, but you hear them talking about it- and it’s been the best experience of their lives.”
Years later, with strangely auspicious timing, Cantone discovered the Air Force had raised its new recruit age limit from 27 to 39 in an effort to expand diversity and talent among recruits.
With only months to spare before reaching the age cutoff, Cantone committed to join the Air Force.
Cantone said, “It was definitely a big decision to make. I had a great job, my wife had a great job, and I would be as old as many Airman who were retiring.” But ultimately, Cantone made the plunge, becoming a 4C0X1- Mental Health Service Specialist.
Now, as an airman first class mental health technician, Cantone is responsible for direct patient care and prevention. According to those around Cantone, who recently won a Wingman of the Quarter award, his work does not stop there.
During his first year at Sheppard, Cantone served as the manager for the multidisciplinary clinical case conference, which allows providers to coordinate on behalf of the most at-need patients. Additionally, he serves as a unit fitness program manager, a position often reserved for a sergeant. In this position, not only does he lead PT twice a week, but he is in charge of managing records, profiles, scores and fitness development.
Additional to these responsibilities is Cantone’s newest assignment within Sheppard’s Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) program, which helps airmen struggling with alcohol or substance abuse.
Despite this pace Cantone still finds time to work on personal goals, including getting a master’s degree in Psychology; while many use advanced education and their military career to line up a civilian job, that’s not Cantone’s plan.
Cantone hopes to use his “salt” to help those who are serving and have served.
“There is a need” Cantone said. “In the past year since being in the military, two people I have known from the American Legion have committed suicide. They were both veterans. The prevention and treatment we do is important. I’m not working on these things to line up another career. I’ve already done 20 years in the workforce, and now I’m here, and I love it. With any luck, my last job interview was with my recruiter.”