By April Dudash
When the windows are open in Maj. Brian Easley's downtown loft, the sounds of people laughing in Circa 1800's patio, the distant call of incoming CSX trains and the rumble of traffic swirl together to form a comforting buzz.
Two stories above Person Street, he can easily see the Market House from his bedroom.
Easley is an executive officer with the 82nd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. It's his second stint at Fort Bragg. The first time, he lived on post, but now, he says living downtown gives him an identity outside the installation.
His past is full of interesting abodes. When he was an admissions officer at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., he rented an old servant's quarters on a J.P. Morgan estate.
When he moved to downtown Fayetteville, he noticed about one-third of its residents are military, from civil affairs soldiers to Army eye doctors. The rest are lawyers, real estate agents and entrepreneurs. For them, it's easy to zip over to Horne's for lunch or grab coffee at Rude Awakening.
But when he's not on post or at home, he's traveling the world. Easley tallied his travels recently and realized he's been to almost 20 countries and to five continents. He's eyeing the Antarctic and Australia next.
Last Easter, Easley visited Bogota, Colombia, where more than 60,000 Roman Catholics and curious travelers walked the Stations of the Cross to the highest point in Bogota, the sanctuary Cerro de Monserrate, where Easter services were held among the clouds.
He's ridden an elephant in Thailand, where he also sampled the country's delicious rice and curry dishes among a backdrop of Buddhist temples. He's visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan, a place that struck the strongest emotional chord.
But perhaps the most challenging trip was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and reaching the peak at the perfect moment - the first sunrise of 2012.
It took five days and a hard trek to reach the summit. Nicknamed the "Whiskey Route," it isn't for the feint of heart. Those who hike and climb the tough terrain (and conquer altitude sickness) reach Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet to stare down at the clouds.
"There were some points of the night, on New Year's Eve, I was thinking, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" Easley said.
His treat after making it through Kilimanjaro was going snorkeling in Zanzibar's crystal blue waters.
"As soon as I have something finished, the way my mind is always running, I'm planning what's next," Easley said.
Next on his list is taking a rural motorcycle tour along the Great Wall of China and seeing the Egyptian pyramids.
It wasn't always this way. Easley spent the first 17 years of his life in the foothills of Pea Ridge, Ark., population 4,800.
He was accepted into West Point without ever traveling to see the campus. He first saw the Manhattan skyline and the outline of the Statue of Liberty from the plane window, and knew he had arrived.
"I flew to New York by myself with a one-way ticket," Easley said. "I had my eyes opened to how big the world was outside of Arkansas."
He graduated in 1999 and was immediately assigned to Hawaii, a touch of fate that not only spurred his love of traveling, but also made the Army his career. "The Army gave me the opportunity to travel," he said. "I really never left Arkansas growing up."
Back home in Fayetteville, Easley is surrounded by music paraphernalia. He owns two guitars, and his beloved Sigma was a high school graduation gift. His father and younger brother are expert musicians, he says, so he grew up around music. He has framed tickets and posters from a 1999 New York Bob Dylan concert and a 2002 Las Vegas trip to see the Rolling Stones. Hanging next to his desk is a Mick Jagger print drawn by Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood.
Situated around IKEA curved sofas and modern, boxy closet space are photos of his 6-year-old son, as well as University of Arkansas and U.S. Military Academy diplomas, reminding him of his roots.
"I've grown as a citizen of the world, not just a little boy from Arkansas."
And Easley encourages other soldiers to do the same with their time in the Army. "If it's the Cape Fear River or the Nile River, make the most of life, make the most of your youth."