Michael Richey’s job was to help rebuild
FLORENCE, S.C. -- Michael W. Richey looks back fondly on his 21 years of service in the U.S. Army.
Richey was born in Germany, where his father was stationed, and grew up in a military family . After his father retired from the military, the family moved to Greenwood, South Carolina. Richey’s father and mother had grown up nearby in Ware Shoals.
Richey decided to join the ROTC and follow in his father’s footsteps, electing to go on active duty after graduating from Clemson University in 1985.
He went to basic training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, before getting his first assignment in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, serving in the Army Corps of Engineers. Richey went back to Virginia for advanced course training before serving time in Hawaii, Florida and at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Shortly after that, he moved to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he was on the day of one of the worst attacks in American history. Richey said he remembers exactly where he was the morning the Twin Towers were hit on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was stationed at Fort Bliss, working with Corps of Engineers,” Richey said. “I was a young major working in a project office. We were doing construction, and I was on my way to work listening to the radio when the broadcast came on. When I got to work, we turned the TV on and watched the rest of that day unfold in disbelief. A lot of installations went to a lockdown mode, and we were no exception. Previously, people could come and go, and everything was pretty much open.”
Following the events of that day, though, Richey said, he spent a good part of his assignment putting up countless miles of fencing around the base.
“It was a very tense rest of my assignment,” Richey said.
Following those events, Richey said, he wanted to get involved and volunteered to serve in Germany.
“I knew that units from Germany were getting ready to deploy, so I volunteered to go,” Richey said. “I didn’t really know whether or not the unit I was a part of would be deployed for sure, but it was in the back of my mind.”
His unit was deployed, and that began his first year of deployment in Iraq in 2003-04. Richey said his unit was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Back in the ’70s, there was a state-of-the-art Air Force base across the border in Balad, Iraq,” Richey said. “It had been vacated when we crossed the border. It took us about a month to get there, and vandals came in and pretty much destroyed everything. So, as the engineer, it was part of my job to help rebuild things.”
Richey said his unit was a logistical support group, so it provided water, meals and necessities to those on the base as well as those in the field.
“They needed a home place, so we built up that infrastructure that had been vandalized and torn up,” Richey said.
Richey went back to Germany and recouped before changing units and being deployed for a year to Afghanistan, where he helped construct roads in 2005-06.
“We were trying to help farmers get their crop to the market,” Richey said. “It was pretty rough going through the countryside of Afghanistan, but we were stationed there trying to get their roads stabilized.”
After returning from Afghanistan in 2006, Richey retired from the U.S. Army and began working at Francis Marion University as the director of facilities engineering and maintenance.
Richey said he appreciates the encouragement and gratitude he receives from people for his service but said he couldn’t have done it without the support from his wife and children.
“One of the things that kind of goes unnoticed is the family that you leave behind,” Richey said. “I’ve told my wife this many times: She had the toughest job. Being left with three young children, she was left to raise them by herself for both of the one-year deployments that I had. They’re the unsung heroes.”