Former POW provides unique perspective to NCO Academy students
April 29, 2009
- OC&S Instructor shares experiences
- NCO also former POW
At least one Aberdeen Proving Ground Soldier is all too familiar with the consequences that can follow paying too close of attention to the little voice in your head that says, "this is just training."
At the APG Noncommissioned Officer Academy, this instructor is using his own unique experiences as he strives to ready Soldiers for any challenge life might throw at them while instilling a sense that the threats each and every one of them face are very real, and that everyone is at risk - it may just be training now, but what about tomorrow'
Sgt. James Riley, an instructor at the APG NCOA, explained that in today's turbulent international environment and with modern warfare evolving as it has, it doesn't matter what a Soldier's military occupational specialty or assignment is, "if you're an American Soldier, you're at risk."
Prior to this assignment, Riley served as a 44E machinist with the 507th Maintenance Company. Deployed to Iraq in February of 2003, his tour of duty was cut short when after less than one month in country he was taken as a prisoner of war with seven of his fellow Soldiers.
The 507th Maintenance Company was not designated as a combat unit, and at the time, Riley admits that their mindset was just that.
"'That'll never happen to me,'... that's what I said; that's what they said," said Riley.
Upon returning from Iraq, Riley worked with Advanced Individual Training students for a short period before being transferred to the NCOA, where he teaches classes on many different subjects, including but not limited to combatives, first aid and short range marksmanship.
Riley said that as an NCO and instructor he has a unique opportunity to impact Soldiers' lives.
"I have the opportunity to pass on things that I've learned, some the hard way, some in different schools, all over," Riley said. "You gotta take a bit from here and there and piece it all together so that it works for you and your given situation. Soldiers need to remember that while something may not be the way that they personally or their unit does things, everything they learn is just another tool to stick in their toolbox."
He said that it's not the big things but the little things that usually get people, and his fellow NCOA instructors agreed that his approach to his job shows that he takes it very seriously.
"He's one of those guys who performs any task you give him without question and always strives for perfection. He never gives less than one hundred percent," said Master Sgt Kenneth J. Love, Riley's supervisor at the academy.
Riley is the NCOA's weapons expert. Small group leader Staff Sgt. Peter Damian said that he respects how Riley knows his subject matter "like the back of his hand."
"He really knows a ton about weapons systems," Damian said. "Knowing more than just what you're trained on in Basic could save your life in a lot of situations, especially a POW experience, so his knowledge is really useful. Every Soldier should know how to use their enemy's weapons."
Small group instructor Sgt. Edward Jones said Soldiers who go through the NCOA consider Riley "the real deal."
"Soldiers respect him for the fact that he was a POW and takes the job very seriously and knows his stuff," Jones said.
The 507th Maintenance Company's return from Iraq was highly publicized, and there were few who didn't want to capitalize on the experiences of the returning POWs, including Riley. However, what some admire most about Riley is his refusal to, as Staff Sgt. Leslie H. Mayne put it, "hug the media."
Love agreed, and said that "he doesn't expect a reward or anything of that nature, he just enjoys doing the job."
Although introverted by nature, Riley admits that the experience he will look back at with the most pride upon retirement is the time he spent as an instructor.
"This was my first experience dealing with people on a large scale basis of any sort," Riley said. "I've enjoyed it a lot, though, and think I've been good at it."
With 18 and a half years of service and retirement looming ahead, Riley has no definite plans for what challenges he might like to tackle next. He always wanted to be in the military and said that he'd stay in if he could.
In the meantime, Riley hopes to continue to make a difference in Soldiers' lives any way he can.
"I'm just an individual doing my job. This can be a real tough job, and like a lot of things, it's all what you make of it, what you give to it. I'm just trying to pass on all that I can so that they cannot make the same mistakes and face the consequences. Even if it wasn't your fault, you're still gonna live with that. You were there, it's always going to be going through your mind, 'what could I have done, what did I do wrong,' and you just try and pass everything on so that hopefully someone else doesn't make that mistake," Riley said.