An Old Soldier Returns To Iraq

At 60, Maj. James Richards Jr. is in Iraq because he heard the call to duty after Sept. 11. He had retired from the Navy in 1993, but re-enlisted. He and his wife, Angela, must now face a situation familiar to military families across America.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Major James Richards Jr. is in Iraq because he heard the call to duty. He'd retired from the U.S. Army in 1993 but re-enlisted after September 11. And today, he's a company commander in the 44th Medical Command. But Major Richards has a particular distinction above even that. He is 60 years old. He's served in the U.S. military in five different decades. Major James Richards Jr. joins us from Baghdad. Major, thanks so much for being with us.

Major JAMES RICHARDS JR. (Commander, 44th Medical Command): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And may I ask? Can you share with us what the reaction to the election results has been this week in Baghdad?

Major RICHARDS: Well, I think I could speak for pretty much everyone here that we're all relieved that it's over because it's been two years' worth of primaries and election coverage and so forth.

SIMON: Major, how is it over there for you?

Major RICHARDS: Actually, to be honest, better than I expected. We're not sleeping in tents or eating MREs, so pretty good for being in a war zone.

SIMON: We've got a special guest joining us now: Angela Richards. I believe you know her, don't you, Major?

Major RICHARDS: Yes. I think I've met her before.

SIMON: Mrs. Richards, Angela Richards, joins us now from the studios of member station WLRH in Huntsville, Alabama. Mrs. Richards, thank you very much for being with us.

Mrs. ANGELA RICHARDS: Well, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And may I ask, do you ever have occasion to let the fact drop that you have a husband who's serving in the U.S. military in Iraq, and see people's eyes get wide?

Mrs. RICHARDS: Oh, yes. I have had that. But I also have those that say, well, tell him we appreciate the service that he is doing. And some of these people that say that have sons and grandsons in the military.

SIMON: Major, I'm told you started your military career in 1969.

Major RICHARDS: Yes, sir.

SIMON: What are the differences that you notice? I mean, help us appreciate how the military is different today than it was when you first went into it.

Major RICHARDS: To me, that's easy because I still remember wearing a uniform during the Vietnam era. Regardless of the popularity, or lack of it, of the war today, the public, in my perception, is really behind the military and, you know, gives them, I would say, unconditional support. And that wasn't true when I was originally in, during Vietnam.

SIMON: And what are soldiers like?

Major RICHARDS: Oh, they're different than when I was in the Vietnam era. Today, it's an all-volunteer force, whereas when I first came in, of course, the draft was going on, and there were a lot of people in uniform against their will, so to speak. Today everyone is very motivated to be in the military, where that wasn't always the case during Vietnam.

SIMON: Major, last week we posted an item on our Weekend Soapbox blog. And we asked listeners if they had any questions for you.

Major RICHARDS: All right, sir. I'll try to answer them.

SIMON: From Robert Jones(ph), who listens to us on member station KJZZ in Phoenix. He asks, were there traits or experiences that you gained during your absence from the military that made you a better leader upon returning?

Major RICHARDS: I would say that just the fact of getting a little older and maybe mellowing out a little bit, that, you know, I learned more patience and learned to try to keep a more even disposition in all things. And those have probably served me very well.

SIMON: Do you know when you're coming home, Major Richards?

Major RICHARDS: Our unit is scheduled to deploy back to the U.S. in early July of next year.

SIMON: Do you have a family, Mrs. Richards?

Mrs. RICHARDS: Yes. We have five girls together, and we have several grandchildren.

SIMON: So you have grandkids who say granddad's off in Iraq?

Mrs. RICHARDS: Yes, Papa Jim is in Iraq. And they are very supportive. We have one granddaughter that's a soccer player in Auburn, and she has been very supportive. Actually, all of them have. One of the younger ones who's in about the fifth grade, they had a program this past week on Veterans Day, and she was a little teary-eyed, I think. But she was very happy to know that Papa Jim was trying to do something to keep the country safe.

SIMON: Major Richards and Angela Richards, thank you both very much.

Mrs. RICHARDS: Thank you very much, too.

Major RICHARDS: Well, thank you, sir. I've enjoyed it.

SIMON: Major James Richards is a company commander with the 44th Medical Command in Baghdad. Angela Richards, Mrs. Richards, spoke with us from Huntsville, Alabama.

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