FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Maj. James Richards Jr. thought his 22-year Army career was done when he retired in 1993. But when the military called, the 60-year-old volunteered for another hitch and deployed to Iraq.
The Fayetteville Observer reported Monday that Richards, a married father of five with several grandchildren, deployed to Iraq two months ago to become the headquarters company commander for the Fort Bragg-based 44th Medical Command.
"As corny as it may sound ... I was wanting to serve the country again, and I felt like I was still mentally and physically in good enough shape to do that," Richards said in a telephone interview from Iraq.
Richards, of Huntsville, Ala., started his military career during the Vietnam War and retired at age 45. But when the Army started a program about four years ago to welcome back volunteer retirees in good enough shape to return to active duty, Richards offered to return.
Last fall, the Army called.
Richards took a leave of absence from his job as a contractor for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. He deployed to Iraq on Sept. 7.
"I can honestly say that every day since I've come back on active duty, I've been excited about being able to put on a uniform again," he said.
The voluntary one-year commitment hasn't meant joining a patrol or kicking down doors in a search for Iraqi insurgents.
"For an old guy like me, that's been a plus," Richards said. "Unfortunately, I have to say there are days that you realize you're not as young as you used to be. I also say I think I'm more mature and think things through better."
Back home in Alabama, his wife, Angela, said her husband seemed like he needed a new challenge and embraced his latest mission. They have five daughters, a couple of grandsons and four granddaughters.
"I am concerned, of course," Angela Richards said. "We are both mature adults and realize things can happen. Things can happen in your house. I just pray for his safety and all the soldiers."
Since he last wore a uniform, the Army's spit-shined black boots have been replaced by desert footwear. Insignia and patches once sewn onto uniforms are now applied with Velcro.
"I guess one of the things I've noticed with the younger soldiers, especially, body art seems to be very popular now. More popular than years ago," Richards said.