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franklin county times

PROGRESS 2024: Veteran Spotlight: Robbie Richardson

Although many veterans can trace their military service back to their “fresh-out-of-high-school” days, Robbie Richardson has a different story. The 53-year-old Russellville native began his full-time military service in 2007 at the age of 37.

“I always regretted not doing it,” said Richardson, a 1988 graduate of Russellville High School. After jobs in sales and at the Russellville Fire Department, he decided to answer the call to serve his country with the Army National Guard. “They were about the only ones that would take me at the age of the 37,” Richardson joked.

Richardson went to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for basic training. “It wasn’t no better or worse than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I was old enough to be the daddy of almost everybody I was in basic training with.” He continued with AIT at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, training to be a combat medic – a natural fit for skills he already had. “I’d become an EMT in 2005 when I was volunteering for the fire department,” Richardson said. His prior training meant he was able to skip about six weeks of AIT.

Richardson said although his initial plan was to continue working at the fire department while serving in the Guard, rumblings began that their unit might be activated and deployed. They got their orders to Afghanistan about six months later, in May 2009.

After a month at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin to prepare for mobilization, Richardson deployed to Forward Operating Base Shank, in the Logar Province of Afghanistan.

“I was the only medic for our company of 140 guys,” Richardson said. “My primary focus was my guys, but we had a forward surgical team there; when I wasn’t taking care of my guys, I was helping them out. We had about a hundred casualties a month coming in. People getting blown up, shot – all that kind of thing.”

Richardson said the first three months in Afghanistan were especially busy. In addition to his base duties, he sometimes traveled with convoys. As a medic in an engineering unit,, the 168th Engineering Company, 877th Battalion, his company was charged with construction – and reconstruction, like repairing bridges.

“The Taliban liked to sling rockets a lot at us at night,” Richardson remembers. “I’m not going to say we never got shot at, but none of our convoys got blown up that I was on, so that was fortunate.”

The deployment lasted about a year. “I learned a lot about being a medic,” Richardson said. “You’ve got four or five casualties coming in at one time, and it’s you. You learn a lot about medical triage and treatment … I was a career firefighter too, but I probably saw more casualties in a month in Afghanistan than I would have seen out of wrecks and stuff in a whole career in the fire department.”

Richardson was able to call home periodically to check on his wife Tawanna and his daughter, Christa, who was in her second year of college at the time. When their deployment was over, Richardson and his company flew into Birmingham, to a spectacular welcoming party. “It was good to be home.”

He was able to return to full-time firefighting was stationed at home, but he was deployed to Afghanistan again in 2014, this time as part of draw down operations. As the senior medic in the 877th Battalion, he ran the battalion aid station. Based at Bagram Air Field, Richardson served his own battalion and also provided aid to surrounding units that did not have aid stations. While the Taliban was still on the offensive, Richardson said combat-based injuries on this deployment were minimal. He saw much more normal, everyday medical needs. He was tasked with managing 21 medics under his oversight and was also responsible for clinical quality control.

After six months in Afghanistan, Richardson and his unit returned home. He served as the assistant operations NCO for the battalion and the readiness NCO for Headquarters Company, but now, Sgt. 1st Class Richardson is senior human resources sergeant over 800 soldiers in the battalion. That puts him in charge of anything administrative, like awards, pay and processing benefits. It’s a regular 9-5 job. “It’s good benefits, and the pay’s not bad at all,” said Richardson, who will serve at least four more years to have 20 years, or five and a half more to reach full active-duty retirement.

“It’s been good,” Richardson said of his military service. “It’s been tough on family at times, especially when you’re deployed.”

His daughter and husband MV Young live in the Birmingham area. They have one daughter, almost 3. In addition to spending time with family, Richardson stays busy with mission trips with Calvary Baptist Church, and he still sometimes works for the fire department on the weekends.

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