In 2022, Darrell Utt became the Chief of Business Operations for the National Medal of Honor Foundation. But before being all in on building a national monument, museum and learning institute, he proudly wore the coveted long tab.
From the Appalachia to the Army
Raised in one of the poorest cities in America, Utt roots were more than humble. “I was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. My parents worked really hard but didn’t even graduate high school,” he explained. “I played a lot of sports growing up and loved being outside. My family was really poor so opportunities were limited.”
His football coach was a Green Beret attached to the National Guard and knew most of the boys came from similar backgrounds as Utt. “He brought us one summer to Camp Dawson, where the guard drill sergeants were training. They practiced with us for about a week. They got us up early with yelling and had us running all around the mountains,” Utt laughed.
But he loved it and in those woods, the decision to enlist really took root. By 1990, Utt was in basic training as an infantry soldier. “This was right around the lead up to the Gulf War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm,” he said. “My first duty station was Fort Ord, California, which is in Monterey and a very beautiful area of California. A little different than West Virginia, for sure.”
When Fort Ord was deactivated and shut down, he was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington. Training around the 75th Ranger Regiment 2nd Battalion inspired him. “We saw them in the morning and they were just doing ridiculous physical training, rucking and running. it kind of caught my eye. Then my next duty station was at Fort Campbell in Kentucky,” Utt shared.
The Long Tab
Home of the 5th Special Forces Group, watching the Green Berets train lit the fire for him. When his unit was deployed to Egypt for six months, Utt spent the time getting ready for selection. In 1998, he graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course and was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group.
Sent to Germany, he spent a lot of time doing search and rescue in the Balkans. While stationed in Europe, he earned his Ranger tab and even went to jumpmaster and sniper schools. He was sitting in a classroom at Fort Bragg for an NCO course when terrorists attacked on 9/11.
“It became very real. We knew everything had changed,” Utt said. “I never did go to Afghanistan but my ODA was part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.”
He’d deploy to Iraq five times.
After all the combat tours, Utt went back to Bragg to be an instructor. While he was going through a rough divorce the Army worked with him to stay and finish out his work in a staff position.
“I remember telling my neighbor that being a single dad was a hard gig. It was a lot easier for me to do my Baghdad rotations than taking kids around and making sure they're taken care of,” he laughed.
In 2017, Utt retired after almost 27 years in service.
“I think there is a tendency to put our special ops guys and gals up on a pedestal but I think that I think that most would find out they're ordinary people,” he shared. “I never really forgot where I came from and I think it always stayed with me. I just feel so fortunate to be able to have served my country. I’m a proud American and patriot.”
Transitioning to a New Life
During his transition out of the Army, Utt became the director of security for The Museum of the Bible where he stayed for three years. From there, he was a security consultant and found himself resettled in Texas. It was here he heard about the National Medal of Honor Museum being built by its foundation.
“I was introduced to the CEO, Chris Cassidy who is a Navy SEAL veteran and former astronaut,” he said. “I shared a lot of what I had learned at the Museum of the Bible and later he offered me the role as the chief of business operations. I feel very fortunate to be in this position”
In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln established the Medal of Honor and is America’s highest recognition of valor for the military. The foundation is committed to ensuring the stories of its recipients are told.
“We have had the privilege of having the recipients there at the construction site. Being able to have a chance to engage with them is pretty special. Some of the Vietnam era recipients keep saying they want to be alive when it's done,” Utt said. “That's really what drives a lot of us and inspires us to get it done.”
The museum and educational institute (located in Arlington, Texas) will open to the public in January of 2025.
These days he makes time to take those hunting trips with friends, cruises with his wife and soaks in the little things. “I finally have a deep appreciation for what I put my own dad through during my time in special forces. My son is in the Army now and considering going for selection himself,” Utt said.
Reflecting on what has amounted to a lifetime of service, Utt feels blessed to have come this far, especially when there were some touch and go moments. From surviving the harrowing infil of Operation Ugly Baby to a rough battle on April 17, 2006 – where just an inch would have made the difference between being here today and dying, Utt values every day.
To learn more about the National Medal of Honor Museum, click here.