Some youngsters in Libertyville boast backyard basketball courts, hockey nets, soccer goals, skateboard ramps, those pitch-back nets for baseball or even a swimming pool.
Scotty Davis had a foxhole.
"I never stopped being a kid," says U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Scott T. Davis, now 38 and a Belgium resident. Davis is back in town for the NATO summit, where he serves as a military strategist and assistant to the deputy chairman of the NATO Military Committee.
A 2011 graduate of the NATO Defense College in Rome, Davis works at NATO headquarters in Brussels as an adviser to Lt. General Walter E. Gaskin, the Marine who served as Commanding General of Multinational Forces-West for a year during the war in Iraq.
Anticipating plans, working on strategies and doing the homework for the NATO conference in Chicago "is kind of like preparing for combat," says Davis, who has had plenty of experience in that realm.
"He is living out his childhood dream," says sister Lisa Godfrey, the only family member who still lives in Libertyville. Parents Tom and Betty Davis and their other daughter, Lauren, live in Pawleys Island, S.C.
When the Davis family moved into the new Red Top subdivision in 1977, young Scotty spent so much time playing army in the backyard, his father persuaded one of the heavy-equipment operators to dig him a foxhole.
"Our backyard had the only foxhole in the neighborhood," remembers Godfrey, who says many of her teenage friends used to call her brother "The Little General." Their mom would take the boy shopping at Army surplus stores where he'd buy inactive hand grenades as props and even wear them on his vest.
"We went through the airport once and we got stopped," Godfrey says with a chuckle.
Davis says his inspiration came from the military men in his family. He remembers a photograph of his grandfather Thomas, a miner in the Trauger coal mine in West Virginia, serving with the Army tank corps in 1926. Another photograph shows his dad, who spent his civilian career with Allstate, standing behind a .50-caliber machine gun. A prized possession is the photograph of his Uncle Nick Bullick serving as a surgeon assistant in Egypt during World War II.
Even Father Victor Ivers, the priest for whom Davis was an altar boy at St. Joseph Church in Libertyville, sparked a military interest in the boy by telling stories of his days as a Navy chaplain.
But by the time he graduated from Mundelein's Carmel High School in 1991, "the Army was the furthest thing from my mind," remembers Davis, who by then was more interested in leaders such as George Shultz, James Baker, Alexander Haig and Henry Kissinger. "I wanted to be the secretary of state."
During his sophomore year as a political science major at Indiana University, Davis, a member of the lacrosse club and Sigma Pi fraternity, saw an Army recruitment poster.
"That 'Be All You Can Be' -- I felt inspired," he remembers.
"I didn't tell my mom and my dad," Davis says of his decision to join the Army. "I wanted to make sure I could do it, then get my parents' support."
Davis got his parents' support and was commissioned into the service on May 5, 1995, the day before he graduated from college. He quickly rose through the ranks. During his first tour in Korea with the cavalry division that once was led by Gen. George Custer, Davis met and married his wife, Sydney. They now have a son, Morgan, who turns 13 in December, and a daughter, Hannah, who will turn 12 at the end of the month.
Davis' parents, sisters and Godfrey's husband, Mike, have supported him throughout his career as he completed many levels of combat training, served in Kuwait, and earned a master's degree in international studies with an emphasis on the Middle East, Islamic studies and Arabic.
They've also sponsored events and donated to causes that help other veterans and military families.
"My mom and dad came to my jumps at Fort Benning," Davis says of the Georgia base where he learned parachuting skills. Known for having a sense of humor, he lightened the mood once by showing up for training wearing a dress favored by the Cpl. Klinger character from TV's "M*A*S*H." As punishment, Davis was ordered to perform 100 push-ups by a commanding officer who couldn't help but laugh.
But his two deployments in Iraq were deadly serious. For the first in 2004, Davis was a captain of the emergency pipeline repair team that fixed the lines, making sure oil could be used to power the plants making electricity.
"We became a target for insurgents over and over and over again," Davis recalls. "How do you mask a 40-ton excavator? There were more times than I can count on my hands that IEDs (improvised explosive devices) went off under or near my vehicle."
Violence always was lurking during his two tours in Iraq. One Easter morning, as Davis was sleeping in a tent with 30 other soldiers, an insurgent mortar landed 10 yards away.
"Your first reaction is to go under your cot, which isn't going to do anything," Davis says. No one in the tent was seriously hurt, but the mood remained tense until a master sergeant quipped, "Well, I guess the Easter egg hunt is canceled," Davis says.
His first tour of duty in that part of the world was a 2001 assignment in Kuwait, during which his wife gave birth to their second child in a hospital at Fort Hood, Texas. He didn't meet his daughter until he came home three months later. After his vacation leave, Davis' first day back on duty at Fort Hood was Sept. 10, 2001. The next day's events soon sent him back to Kuwait.
Having spent so much time in Iraq, Davis praises the Iraqi people as smart and aware of complex issues of the war. During one patrol, he was just a few yards away when an Iraqi warrant officer, one of the most popular members of their battalion, took off his helmet on a hot day while manning a tank turret and was shot in the head and killed by a sniper.
While he saw death and destruction and was awarded two Bronze Star medals for his meritorious service during combat operations, Davis avoided serious injuries.
"I'm not a superstitious person, but …" he says, reaching into his luggage to pull out the rosary his Uncle Nick bought in Northern Africa in World War II. His other keepsake came in the mail on a busy day in Iraq when he stashed the envelope in his body armor because he didn't have time to open it.
His convoy was about to move into dangerous territory when their Humvee stopped to assist an injured young Iraqi girl. That delay might have saved his life. A mortar designed to rip into the vehicle on the side where Davis sat instead rocketed past the front of their vehicle.
When a shaken but grateful Davis opened the letter in his pocket, he discovered his daughter had drawn a rainbow and his son had drawn a picture of his dad with what "looked like a guardian angel" hovering about his vehicle. Davis still carries his rosary and those drawings wherever he goes -- including this NATO summit.
In September, Davis will begin his Ph.D. studies through King's College London in the field of defense studies with a special interest in insurgencies such as the ones he fought against in Iraq.
"I miss being with soldiers in that environment," Davis admits. But he says the academic and advisory life are a good fit for him.
"That's really what I enjoy doing -- helping," he says. However, if the need arises, he can never be too far removed from the soldier he pretended to be as a boy.
"I can make a fighting position in one hour," Davis says with a smile. "I just need a shovel and a pickax."