By Amy Guckeen Tolson, Staff Writer Redstone RocketAugust 31, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Thirty minutes before AMC Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger was scheduled to depart for the ceremony that would officially free him of the duty and responsibilities that made him the man he is today, Mellinger was hard at work, signing papers and doing everything he possibly could to serve the Soldier for one last time.
"It really hasn't sunk in," Mellinger said minutes before finding his seat of honor at his Change of Responsibility and Farewell ceremony Friday at Bob Jones Auditorium.
As he stood before a crowd of those whose lives he has touched over his four decades with the Army, and those who have touched him, a sense of recognition seemed to cross his face that his life as a Soldier was finally coming to a close.
"My time here is through," Mellinger said. "I'm filled with both pride and sadness."
In addition to handing his responsibility as Army Materiel Command's command sergeant major to incoming Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald T. Riling, Mellinger was bestowed the honors and accolades worthy of the sacrifices, hard work and sense of duty that has embodied his life since he was drafted into the Army April 18, 1972, including the Distinguished Service Medal and Gen. Brehon B. Somervell Medal of Excellence.
"If you want to see the backbone of the Army, you don't have to look much further than right there…We truly are bidding farewell to an Army legend," AMC commander Gen. Ann Dunwoody said.
One of the very last of those drafted to still be serving today, Mellinger never imagined 39 years ago that he would still be putting on the uniform, a chapter of his life that will come to a close on his official retirement date Dec. 31. A majority of that career was spent as a command sergeant major, teaching Soldiers and making a lifelong impact on them, thus crafting better leaders for the Army, a legacy Mellinger hopes will live on as he retires.
"That's the Command Sgt. Maj. Mellinger I've come to know," Dunwoody said. "Always teaching, always mentoring, always sharing what he knows with everyone."
Part of that distinguished service included his role as command sergeant major, Multi-National Force-Iraq, from August 2004 to May 2007, a 34-month tour, where Mellinger, ever dedicated to his Soldiers, traveled the same routes his Soldiers traveled to know exactly what the fight was like for his war fighters. Three of his Humvees were destroyed over the course of his deployment, a small sacrifice considering the 27 IED attacks that occurred as Mellinger traveled the roads his Soldiers traveled.
"He saw the fight through his own eyes," Dunwoody said. "He traveled the same routes that his Soldiers traveled and he saw what worked and he saw what didn't work… He was just able to see things that others couldn't."
As she bade farewell to the Soldier that has been her right hand man for the past few years, Dunwoody grew emotional, aware of the historic moment in Army history, and of the great impact he has made on every Soldier he has touched.
"I can't imagine a more powerful example of our country's tradition of selective service," Dunwoody said. "Without hesitation he answered the call of his nation."
His nation, and the Army, is better for it. In his final role as AMC command sergeant major, Mellinger touched every Soldier in the Army every day, advocating for everything they needed to proclaim mission accomplished, a sense of duty that permeates his entire being.
"He never forgot what it was like to be cold, hot, tired or wet and he's been a true advocate for the war fighter at AMC," Dunwoody said. "His passion for the war fighter comes through every action and very word."
Mellinger's wife, Kim, received the Department of the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, Shield of Sparta-Heroine of Infantry, and a Commanding General Four Star Note from Dunwoody for her special dedication to wounded warriors and their fallen comrades throughout the course of her husband's career.
"I don't come to work for the attention. I don't come to work for the recognition," Mellinger said. "It's been a privilege. It's been an honor."