It’s very likely that what you wanted to be when you were a kid, and what you ended up being are pretty different. You might have wanted to be an astronaut, a race car driver, a famous musician or a sports icon. Maybe you had absolutely no idea what you wanted to be.
David Casas fell into the latter category. As a teenager, he was just planning to graduate from high school then go off to college because that’s what his parents wanted. That is, until he saw how sharp a Marine recruiter looked in uniform one day.
David had spoken with recruiters from the other branches, but none of them felt like the right fit. It wasn’t until he saw that Marine recruiter, and heard him describe the brotherhood of the Marines, that David knew what he wanted to do. “I was a student at Minor High School and I talked to this recruiter one day, then I invited him over to my house to talk about everything. The next day I was signing those papers. Looking back on it, my parents were probably a little mad at me for rushing in without telling them sooner.”
After reassuring his mom and dad that this was what he needed to do, David was off to basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, ready to begin what would become a five-year enlistment with the Marines.
“Going into it, I was really reserved, really shy. I was in my own little box. I didn’t want to be the best, but I didn’t want to be the worst. I just wanted to be in the middle.” David recalls. He just wanted to serve. But he couldn’t serve until before he learned what he would actually be doing in the Marines.
He eventually ended up taking care of the largest helicopter in the United States Military: the CH-53E Super Stallion.
The CH-53E Super Stallion is an airborne behemoth that weighs over thirty-three thousand pounds, and has the strength to lift an additional forty-thousand pounds of cargo into the skies, thanks to its set of three engines. Guns are mounted on the left, right, and back of the Super Stallion to protect the helicopter and the crew while soaring through the air.
The Super Stallion is crewed by five people: a pilot and copilot, a crew chief (who also acts as a gunner), and two gunners.
As a crew chief, David was responsible for manning one of the Stallion’s three mounted guns while in the air, but that’s not all. He, and all of his fellow crewmates, were also responsible for maintaining their Super Stallion on and off the ground. And there was always a need to make some repairs.
“We had a saying, ‘If it’s not leaking you have a problem.’ That’s because if there’s nothing leaking, then there’s no fluid left to leak out, you know?” He recalled with a laugh. “If it’s not leaking, there’s a good chance a bullet might have clipped a hose and you could have lost your hydraulic fluid and that’s a bad thing.”
There’s no stronger example of “remaining cool under pressure” than fixing the helicopter you’re currently flying in while you’re in the air.
While David might have started his service trying to blend in and be unnoticed, that changed after his first deployment. “I got shipped out to MCAS Miramar in San Diego, California, and that’s where I started really being a Marine, I guess you could say.” David’s squadron was HMH-466, nicknamed the “Wolfpack.”
Here, David continued to train, improve, and grow closer to his fellow Marines. He began to excel at his calling, and became better and better at everything he did.
Those skills and drive came in handy when, in 2012, David was deployed on his first of two tours to Afghanistan.
He was stationed out of Camp Leatherneck, in the Helmand Province in the southern part of Afghanistan. The Super Stallion’s forty-thousand pounds of hauling power was invaluable there, too. David and his fellow crew members moved anything and everything out of Fort Leatherneck to wherever it needed to go. From fighting equipment, to desperately needed supplies, to the troops that would be using it all on the ground.
His crew was even responsible for moving large ground vehicles from place to place. “The Stallion had these ports on the bottom we attached cables to, and we could move pretty much anything anywhere. It was like those claw machines that you grab the little toys out of sometimes, but with Humvees.”
David’s second tour was in 2014 and when his enlistment contract ended, David asked for an extension and stayed in Afghanistan for an additional four months, all because he felt duty-bound to do so.
“I just loved the feel of the Marines. Just this one, big group that all works so well together. You can look at your brother beside you and know he’s got your back through anything. You may not agree on everything, and you may fight over some things, but at the end of the day, you’re all brothers and you get the job done. I’m honored to be a part of that.”
When it was all said and done, David managed to rise to the rank of E5 Sergeant in his first enlistment period, something that usually takes two enlistments to earn. “It was in my first tour that a switch just flipped, you know? You couldn’t keep me from giving everything my all.” David entered the Marines with no idea what he could become, and came out with the strength and integrity of a soldier.
When he did get out, things didn’t work out exactly how he planned. David had originally planned to work on gas lines with his dad, but there were no openings with the company when he got back to the States. So what to do?
Go to a graduation of course.
David was at UAB with his family, watching his cousin on her walk to get her diploma, when he decided to go to college. “I had the GI Bill, so I figured ‘why not use it,’ you know? I wasn’t doing anything else. Why not college?”
With a spontaneity similar to when we enlisted in the Marines, he found himself signing up for classes.
A few weeks later, David was sitting in orientation, ready to start his collegiate life. When the time came to select a major, David hadn’t thought that far ahead.
Not to break his streak of going for the first thing that caught his attention, David chose Accounting. “They said ‘you have to pick a major,’ and then they started calling them out. Accounting was at the top. I’ve always been pretty good at math so I figured that sounded pretty good to me.”
He had always been number-minded, and the Marines had instilled in him a sense of drive that David could use to power through anything. After all, how tough could Accounting 101 be compared to patching up a helicopter mid-flight?
Fortunately, David enjoyed the subject and stuck with it through his entire college career. “It’s a reliable field and I like it. Everyone needs an accountant, so I think it’ll be around for a while.”
It comes as no surprise that David completed his Bachelor’s degree in just three years. The way he started looking for a job probably is no surprise either.
“I looked up ‘Birmingham accounting firms online, and just started going down the list, A to Z, sending in my resume, asking for a job. It only took him to the “B”s and he had found his home. “Borland Benefield was the firm that took me in.”
“I’m a staff tax accountant, so I do tax work and services for clients. That includes anything from corporations, to businesses, all the way down to individual clients.”
David makes it his personal mission to build morale at the office, never letting anyone go about their day in a bad mood, and never letting the job wear anyone down. “If the Marines taught me anything, it was work ethic and to keep going,” David says, “In Afghanistan, it got crazy hot, but we just made the best of it. I try to bring that positive energy to the office wherever I can.”
It’s clear that David has always been a “top of the list” kind of guy. Whether it’s approaching that Marine recruiter, to going to college just from seeing a graduation, to picking his major and employer because they’re both at the top of the list alphabetically, when he sees something that catches his eye, he goes for it.
But David is at the top for another reason. He’s a top-tier individual in terms of work ethic, character, and integrity. He strives to be the best man he can be, in and out of the office, and he inspires others to do the same.
Plus, if we ever get caught in a leaky helicopter, we’ll have someone who not only knows how to balance the books, he can tighten any loose screws and fix the leaky hoses.