REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (June 13, 2022) – For a boy from a small town in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army has provided 1st Sgt. James Rihn the opportunity to travel the world.
But soon, Rihn will don his uniform for the last time as he retires after 20 years of service to his country. Rihn is currently the non-commissioned officer in charge for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center and is stationed at the Center’s Fort Eustis facilities – a place short on green suiters and high on civilians. That was a big change for Rihn who was accustomed to leading Soldiers.
Rihn didn’t always see himself as a Soldier and in fact, started his post-secondary education at art school. But as he found himself headed down what he knew was the wrong road, he longed for a change – a path forward to find out who he was meant to be.
“It was soon after September 11,” he shared. “A couple of my good buddies had joined and I was going nowhere, so I walked into the recruiting station and said, ‘What do you got for me?’”
That question changed his life. While Rihn did not come from a military family, his uncle was a Vietnam veteran and Rihn remembered the stories that he shared of working on helicopters while in the service. He thought that sounded like a good idea. Rihn certainly got his wish for a change of scenery, spending his first six years stationed in Hawaii. He said that he looks back on those years as some of the best that he experienced in uniform.
“It was a brotherhood,” he said. “I don’t think I will get that on the outside (of Army service). I will miss that.”
Of course, it wasn’t always paradise. Rihn deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan three times – having the distinction of helping build part of the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan on his first deployment, and tearing it down during his last in 2020.
“We weren’t the first ones, but we built our own B-huts – bedrooms out of wood,” Rihn said. “Then in 2020, it is a metropolis and we are tearing everything down again. We shut down the base and reduced operations in Kandahar. We even tore down the boardwalk – the famous boardwalk in Kandahar in 2014. Every time we went there it was a totally different place and different experience. Never the same.”
When he arrived at DEVCOM AvMC in 2020 from Afghanistan, it was a culture shock to a NCO used to giving orders.
“I had to learn how to communicate with people,” Rihn said with a laugh. “Some things are the same but when dealing with the civilian population, I had to learn how to ask to get it done.”
Now, Rihn looks to the future with practicality – with first on the list, clothes shopping. For the first time in 20 years, he will have to pick out what he wears to work. He said that he and his family plan to stay in the area for his kids Adam and Luke to remain in their schools. And after a decade of his wife Allesia following him to duty stations – it is finally her turn to be in charge of where they want to live.
Looking back on two decades of service, Rihn doesn’t have to think hard about what advice he would give the next generation of Soldiers. It is the same thing he has been telling them all the while as an Army leader – on late night phone calls, over a cup of coffee, or sometimes even as he bailed them out of jail.
“I always tell my Soldiers to volunteer often. Anytime something comes up, don’t be the guy who looks the other way – who doesn’t make eye contact. Good detail or bad detail – if your hand goes up, your leaders remember that.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.