Fifteen miles from his home in Columbus, Ga., somewhere in the middle of a 900-foot night parachute jump from a helicopter during Special Forces training near Ft. Benning in 1999, James Dusenberry decided it was time to get out of an adrenaline-fueled career as an Army Ranger.
And get on with his life — if he could save the one he had.
His parachute was tangled, the risers wrapped around his rifle barrel. He had moments to pull himself free. A half-second delay and he’d end up with a broken back. A couple of seconds later and he’d leave behind a widow and three young children.
Somehow, James escaped critical harm. Maybe it was the prayer said during the tumble from the sky, his renewed faith, or his own instincts that saved him. But for the West Point graduate, it was a turning point. “I prayed afterward and said, ‘Lord I know You want me out of the Army, and it’s time for me to be obedient,’ ” James says.
Leaving the military wouldn’t happen overnight. There would be another undercover mission to Peru, to stop drug traffickers in the Amazon River basin. Still, a promise to be home more, to be an involved father and husband, led the Army major to explore banking. A favorable post-military climate at Regions offered a smooth transition.
Now, as the West Tennessee City President for Regions in Jackson, James has a job he loves in a city that has embraced him and his family. “I’d made a promise to be a better husband and father. To do that, I needed a new season of life,” he says. “Regions provided that opportunity with values and people I connected with. I’m able to raise my kids in a classic Southern city, be part of a phenomenal church and my kids attend a great Christian school. None of that would be possible without Regions.”
A native of Clemson, S.C., James was appointed a Second Lieutenant after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy and sent to the frontlines during the Hail Mary sweep of the Iraqi republican guards in the first Gulf War. For a self-professed “adventure junkie,” there would be little time for R&R. He soon joined the elite Army Green Berets, and took command of a scuba team. As a captain, he led his detachment without casualty during the invasion of Haiti.
Already fluent in multiple languages, he picked up Haitian Creole out of necessity during his three tours in Haiti. The ability to adapt and his military record led to a job as an instructor at the French military academy in St. Cyr, France, where he taught leadership and tactics.
He attended jungle warfare training in Guyana with the French Foreign Legion, Belgian paratrooper training and mountain warfare school based in the Swiss Alps. But it was back stateside, at a Promise Keepers Rally, that he first realized he had to consider making a change.
“The military wife has to be extraordinary, and my wife Marianna always has been,” James says. “When we got to France, she was seven months pregnant. She had to deliver our son with a midwife who spoke no English. When we were returning from France two years later, she had to fly ahead of me back to the states with two little kids while five months pregnant. That’s the kind of hardship the military requires of soldiers and their families.”
Life is stable now. James loves working with his team at Regions and the role the bank plays in 18 West Tennessee counties. But he hasn’t forgotten the hardships placed on military families.
Now a chaplain’s assistant with the Tennessee National Guard, James is attending seminary at Liberty University with the goal of becoming a chaplain for his local guard unit.
“We’re having a lot of problems in the military with suicides and post-traumatic stress,” he says. “It’s an honor for me to minister to the soldiers and their families, serving those who serve our country. And it doesn’t matter if faith is part of the conversation or not, because I’ve been there and I want to make a difference.”