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
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
“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 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
“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
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