JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
A native of Norfolk, Virginia, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lorenzo Riddick, 733rd Mission Support Group operations director, grew up surrounded by the military. He always thought it was a noble and honorable path in life, but there was nothing that could have prepared him for the twists and turns said path would bring.
Riddick joined the military in 1979 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and considered his period of service through 1989 a time of peace for the nation.
“It was very interesting because we had been in peacetime for so long,” Riddick said. “The only real conflict that may have any note was Grenada in ’83 and that didn't affect the entire U.S. military, so we basically were a peacetime Army up until that point.”
In 1990, Riddick was moving from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, to Heidelberg, Germany, to join the 207th Aviation Company. On arrival he received news that the “peacetime Army” he had grown accustomed to, was switching gears.
“I was in the middle of a permanent change of station as I watched Desert Shield formulate on television,” he said. “As I was signing into my unit, there were Soldiers on their way to Saudi Arabia. From across the desk, one of them said, ‘hey man nice to meet you, we'll see you in Saudi.’”
He would later deploy as the flight detachment commander in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. He was responsible for seven airplanes, transporting small cargo and VIPs in and out of the area of operations; but in the back of his mind he had left the responsibility of a wife and a four-year-old son.
“For a wife and a young son who had never been stationed overseas before, the family support that I received from the Heidelberg community in Germany was phenomenal,” Riddick said. “But if there is one thing I can tell people who want to come in the military, at that particular time in my life the Army really took care of my family while I was gone.”
During this time of war, he was able to feel peace knowing that the families back in Germany were well taken care of while the unit was deployed. He still remembers the pilots he flew with, the maintainers who worked on the aircraft and all of the strong relationships he built during that time.
Riddick piloted the Beechcraft C-12 Huron, which unlike most U.S. Army pilots placed him on an airfield with the U.S. Air Force, making this a truly joint experience.
“I got a chance to do some neat things, some very unique missions,” he said. “Of course, the C-12 is a VIP airplane, but we did a lot of things that were non-standard VIP stuff, things that we never thought we would be doing.”
From carrying cargo, Soldiers and money, they were able to provide needed support to leadership and commanders in battlespace. Riddick and his team could bring support under almost any situation as long as there was an airfield available.
“I had probably 14 of the most professional pilots I'd ever been around in my life,” he said. “They were ready to do any type of mission.”
Riddick said being ready to deploy and employ takes courage, and courage is not without fear.
“Everybody had that little thing in the back of their mind thinking that we might not be coming home. During the burning of the oil fields, looking down looked like the world was ending under you. You didn’t know if you would get targeted or shot down while ducking (Scud missiles) and things like that.”
At that point, Riddick felt that was the first time America experienced combat on a grand scale since Vietnam.
“We had a lot of Vietnam veterans who experienced the aftermath of the tragedies of war before, but a lot of us did not spend time in Vietnam,” he said. “War was new to us. I'm not sure there were people out there who could say they had no fears.”
Riddick feels that after Desert Storm the country has remained in continual conflict. Now Soldiers know that when they come in they're coming into a military involved in conflicts around the world and there is always the potential for them to deploy.
“I look at the military now, and these Soldiers are ready to fight,” he said. “Fortunately, we didn't have to fight a long time, and Desert Storm was a 100-hour war. I think Soldiers now come in with the attitude that we fight tonight, as opposed to, we might fight one day.”
Now, as a civilian in the Department of the Air Force, Riddick serves the Soldiers and Airmen of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
“I am comfortable with the environment, I speak the language, I understand the Soldiers and the mission and I want to support them by lending my knowledge and experience,” he said. “That’s why after retiring from active duty in 2008 I stayed in the Department of Defense rather than join a different organization, because I am one of them.”