One Of Last Draftees Leaving Ranks After Four Decades
August 25, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger's wardrobe may be changing, but the man the Army has molded for nearly four decades is not.
The Army Materiel Command's 13th command sergeant major and one of the last of the Army's drafted Soldiers will officially retire Dec. 31, but his sense of duty and selfless service will remain with him long after he has hung up his uniform for the last time. As he bids farewell in a change of responsibility ceremony Friday at Bob Jones Auditorium, and in his official retirement ceremony Oct. 3 in Washington, D.C., Mellinger is not sure what words will come to mind as he looks out on the faces of those that he has touched over the course of his military career, but he does know what they will revolve around.
"It will certainly be about the Soldier," Mellinger said. "The bread and butter of our Army is our Soldiers, civilians and family members."
Equally uncertain is how he will spend his days out of uniform once retirement day arrives, but what he knows for sure is that it will be some "worthy avocation." Whether it's helping adults learn to read, working with veterans or serving Gold Star families, all ideas the soon to be retiree has toyed with, the call he has felt his whole life to be a part of something greater than himself will remain constant.
"Whatever it is I do, at the end of day, I have to feel like I'm making a difference for somebody or something," Mellinger said. "It's continuing to do something I've been doing something all my life, now it will just be out of uniform."
Mellinger has proudly donned the uniform since he was drafted into the Army on April 18, 1972, one of the last men to be drafted, and one of the last of those still serving today. It is the values he has learned throughout his career of service -- moral courage, sense of duty, teamwork, physical fitness and more -- that have shaped him into the man he is today, and, he said, are the values that set those that have served their country, whether as Soldiers or civilians, apart from the rest of society.
"You can't buy responsibility, sense of duty and selfless service," Mellinger said. "I'm not driven by a clock. It's mission focused. It's, 'we've got to get this job done because someone needs us.' It's the sense of belonging to something bigger and more important, that there is a duty to our nation."
Over the course of his career Mellinger has served in a variety of roles, including Special Forces military freefall instructor at Fort Bragg, N.C., with more than 33 hours of accumulated freefall in more than 3,700 jumps; senior team leader, 75th Ranger Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment at Fort Benning, Ga.; assistant professor of military science at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks; command sergeant major, Multi-National Force-Iraq from August 2004 to May 2007; and as of November 2007, the job he holds now. No matter where he has laid his head at night, or what the specialty has been, Mellinger has always made the best of what the Army has given him.
"The best unit I've ever been in is always the one I'm in," Mellinger said. "Assignments are what you make of them. At the end of the day, this is the culminating assignment and the final mark on the wall that I've done all I could do to help these Soldiers out in the field."
As he retires, he will take with him hundreds of memories of serving his nation and his fellow Soldiers over the years, some sad, like when a comrade has been injured or killed, but many happy as well. No longer a young Soldier thriving on the adrenaline rush of running through the jungle to meet the opposing forces, the satisfaction he draws from the job is now about looking to the future, rather than the heat of the fight.
"Where I sit now, it's watching those Soldiers I've left a fingerprint on come into their own right as good leaders," Mellinger said. "I just hope I've helped them see things in themselves, things they wouldn't have otherwise seen to make them better, to make them think that they could be something or do something they didn't think they wanted or could do. The best you can hope for is that you've created better leaders than you were yourself."
All are invited to attend Mellinger's change of responsibility Friday at Bob Jones Auditorium.