UIJEONGBU, South Korea (8/10/2012) - Conscription is a core component of military history and tradition. While Korean augmentation to the U.S. Army soldiers are familiar with this fact, most U.S. soldiers have never experienced forced entry to military service – not since the last Americans affected by the draft entered service in 1973.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph E. Rigby mans a mounted M60 during a patrol in Afghanistan's Paptika province in July 2004. No other individual in the unit had been trained on the legacy weapon, so Rigby volunteered for the mission. Courtesy Photo
| ||But, not all service members are like Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph E. Rigby, an Auburn, N.Y., native currently serving as an ordnance logistics officer at 2nd Infantry Division Headquarters, who has served continuously since he was drafted during the conflict in Vietnam. |
“I had started my own shop, fixing up vehicles, when I got my notice,” he said.
While others went to great lengths to avoid serving under such contentious circumstances, Rigby quietly closed up his garage and packed his bags for basic training. Though he was fortunate enough not to have been deployed to Vietnam, he still looked forward to the end of his term of service. Throughout those early months and the following year that he spent in Korea, Rigby counted the days until his release.
“I had a calendar I carried with me and I marked off the days, waiting to get out,” he said.
But, fate had different plans. Rigby enjoyed his first assignment so much that he decided to extend his tour.
“I had so much fun in Korea that it all passed in the blink of an eye,” Rigby said of his time as a generator opera�tor on the peninsula. “Before I realized it, 40 years had gone by.”
But, according to Rigby, nearly half a century of service does not come without its moments of doubt. He has had several opportunities to leave the Army, along with the reasons to do so. But, to him, the reasons to stay always seemed to hold the most weight.
“I had my shop, at first. After that, I was starting to look into retirement around [the year] 2000,” said Rigby, who had turned down several lucrative opportunities to work in the private sector. “Then, 9/11 happened.”
As a seasoned expert with valuable deployment experience, Rigby knew he had a lot to offer the younger soldiers, and he decided against retirement. Those younger soldiers, he said, are one of the main reasons he is still wearing a uniform.
Staff Sgt. Geraldo Rivera, an armament repair specialist who works with Rigby, said his mentorship was likely the most valuable skill he brought to the fight.
“He never refuses to help anybody – ever,” said Rivera. “But, he requires an investment of time because he doesn't just solve the problem for you. He teaches what you need to know.”
As long as he can continue to work with soldiers, Rigby believes he still has a lot to offer the Army.
Rivera agrees, citing Rigby's extensive experience, deep knowledge and uncanny accuracy.
“But, with as long as he's been in [the Army], he should.” Rivera joked. “Chief is a great guy.”
The Army has been a great career choice, said Rigby, who admits that it has afforded him other unique opportunities.
“I've been able to travel and see things I would never have seen otherwise,” he said. “It's mandatory to grow old, but not to grow up.”
Now at a desk, and having served long enough to twice merit retirement, Rigby is again considering the possibility of hanging up his boots. The decision comes at an appropriate time, he says, because he will have begun and ended his career in Korea, an assignment he enjoyed each of the six times he received it.
For a soldier who was enlisted against his will, during a time of national strife, it would have been natural for Rigby to harbor negative feelings toward the Army. But, instead he made a career out of his passion for helping others and has enjoyed more than four decades of active duty service.
“The draft was the closest I've ever come to winning the lottery,” he concluded.
Story courtesy of U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division
Provided through DVIDS
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