Last Draftee Bids Farewell to Fellow Soldiers
October 7, 2011
The Army's last draftee on active continuous service, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger, bid farewell to friends, family and fellow Soldiers during his retirement ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Arlington Va. Oct. 3, 2011. Mellinger's last command was with the Army Materiel Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
Over the course of his career Mellinger 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 from November 2007 to August 2011 as the Command Sgt. Maj. of the Army Materiel Command.
"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."
Mellinger has worn the Army 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."
Mellinger served as the command sergeant major with two commanding generals of the Multi-National Force-Iraq -- Gen. George W. Casey Jr., and with Gen. David Petraeus -- during a three-year assignment in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, considered the most violent and dangerous stretch during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During his nearly 40 years of service, Mellinger has not looked for a reason to leave the Army.
"I've turned down a lot of fairly high paying jobs over the years. I just love being a Soldier. It's not about the money. It's about the Soldiers, pure and simple," he said.
Mellinger has especially enjoyed the opportunities the Army has given him to have a positive impact on Soldiers, and their personal and professional development.
"The opportunity to guide them, to mold them, to sharpen them into better Soldiers and (as an ROTC instructor) better officers -- that's what I've enjoyed," he said. "The day-to-day interaction with Soldiers and cadets, the leadership structure and the ability to plan and lead, that's what I like. Showing them the possibilities, the things they can do that they never thought they would, and the Army skills like knot tying and building rope bridges and marksmanship, that's the fun stuff."