By Mr. Jerry W Patton (USAREC)March 5, 2013
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- A decorated combat veteran who has seen more than his share of history in the making was an eyewitness to more history being made this week as he was a special guest at the 2013 State of the Union Address Feb. 12 at the nation's Capitol.
Major Richard N. Ojeda II, who currently serves as executive officer of the U.S. Army Beckley Recruiting Battalion, received a call from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin's office Feb. 11 inviting him to attend the event to represent the State of West Virginia as a "favorite son," one who is a member of the active-duty military, a combat veteran and a citizen who is highly active in his community.
"I am honored to have Major Richard Ojeda, a West Virginia veteran and community leader from Logan, join me tonight at the State of the Union address," Manchin said. "He served this nation in uniform in both Iraq and Afghanistan and he continues to serve through his hard work and dedication to his community. He is truly an inspiration to us all."
"Senator Manchin has been watching what we've been doing," Ojeda said, "and he's kept up on the things we have accomplished. It's an honor, to be invited to something like this, it's something I would never have thought I would have ever got the opportunity to do."
When asked what he would represent as a guest of the State of West Virginia, he said, "I want to represent my uniform, I want to represent my County, I want to represent my State, and most importantly, I want to represent my name."
He specifically singled out his grandfather as the one person he most wanted to represent during this honor.
"He would never take a dime that he didn't work for. He put in 10 hours a day swinging a pick and a shovel."
Since Ronald Regan began the tradition in 1982, presidents have used the State of the Union address platform to recognize and honor special guests -- average citizens and local heroes, for their service to our nation or those who have made a difference in their community. Inviting servicemembers to the event serves to demonstrate in a prominent way, the importance our country places on its commitment to its Soldiers. The newest recipient of the Medal of Honor, Army Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha also attended the event as a special guest of first lady Michelle Obama.
As well as being a combat veteran, it was Ojeda's community service that helped put him on the short list of invitees to the event. Since his return to West Virginia and to his hometown of Logan, following a deployment to Afghanistan, he has been a highly vocal and a "get your hands dirty" activist who has been greatly instrumental in helping to improve conditions in and around his hometown.
After serving around the world and in several assignments in the U.S., when he came back home in 2012, he saw that a lot of things around the county had deteriorated -- that the conditions he found were rather shocking to him, and that these things were giving Logan County a black eye.
"I came back from Afghanistan and [the Army] stationed me in Beckley," he told members of the Lions Club of Logan during a speech he gave them shortly after his return. He talked to the group about how people in the community needed to work together on projects that would benefit the community -- which clearly, would help make it a better place to live.
"I got in a heated discussion with my brother-in-law," he said, "about how somebody needed to do something and we came up with the idea of starting a community action group."
As a result of their discussion, he began trying to shake things up. He wrote letters to the local newspaper editor; he confronted politicians at public meetings, and then managed to get some other concerned citizens together to form a new organization that would directly address local problems. The Logan Empowerment Action and Development (LEAD) Group was organized and the group immediately started making a difference in the community. Ojeda said that they actually managed to get people together and actually start doing some things that would help make Logan County more like the place it was when he was a kid growing up there.
Projects the LEAD group, along with some other local organizations, began working on include: neighborhood clean ups; pulling tires and other debris out of the rivers and streams; and several other beautification projects that were geared toward making Logan County more presentable to the large number of tourists who visit the Hatfield-McCoy Trails there. Other recent projects they completed provided 160 pairs of shoes to needy high school students; and their "Operation Santa" in December, provided Christmas presents worth thousands of dollars to area families that otherwise would not have been able to have a happy holiday.
"Unfortunately, in today's world many people do not even know their own neighbors," he said. "We have so much to be proud of and we as a community need to support our children and families who are involved in academics and other worthy pursuits, and not just those involved in sports."
He noted that since LEAD began doing these community projects that people seem to be taking more pride in Logan County, which became obvious as several areas which were cleaned up have stayed that way. "We will not pick up your trash," he said. "But we will come and help you pick up your trash."
As for accolades in the community, he says he is more interested in results than credit.
"I could care less who gets the credit," he said. "Because when we are successful, it is everybody who wins. No one person or group can do it all, but by working together we can achieve a lot. We can work together to make positive change happen. This is our home."
Ojeda was also the subject of a Charleston, W.Va., newspaper story 2011 while serving in Afghanistan which immediately followed a voluntary assignment as Operations Officer of the 2nd Brigade Special Troops - Battalion Global Response Force, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, which was deployed to Haiti in support of "Operation Unified Response." They were charged with providing aid and disaster assistance following the massive 7.0 earthquake there on Jan. 12, 2010. The earthquake turned Haiti into a scene worse than a war zone. The Haitian government reported that as a result of the earthquake and more than 24 aftershocks, that an estimated 316-thousand people had died, 300-thousand had been injured and 1-million were made homeless. They also estimated that 250-thousand residences and 30-thousand commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged, including the Presidential Palace.
Ojeda said that after what he had seen in Haiti and now the conditions he was witnessing in Afghanistan, that he realized just how lucky he is to call the United States home. During his deployments, he said he saw terrible images.
"It's a cruel world," he said. "Kids in America will say they hate school, but there are kids in Afghanistan who walk five miles to school because they know that's the only way to escape poverty."
"I was in Haiti right after the earthquake. I saw people suffering horribly," he said, and now he was watching poor Afghani kids walking barefoot in the snow in some of the poorest and coldest parts of Afghanistan.
While in Haiti he started uploading pictures he had taken to his Facebook website and continued that by posting photos he was taking in Afghanistan -- which began coming to the attention of some of his friends and neighbors back in West Virginia.
"People in Logan started sending me packages of shoes after they would see pictures of kids who had their feet cut up with glass," Ojeda said. He said that over the course of a year he received more than six thousand pairs of shoes from back home that he was delighted to deliver to the local Afghani people.
"One day I got around 300 boxes delivered," he said. "It provided us a lot of security. It made [the local] people change their minds about what they thought of us."
Although born in Rochester, Minnesota, his family moved to Logan when he was a toddler. Following graduation from Logan High School, he began his Army career at age 19 when he enlisted in 1990 and attended OSUT (One Station Unit Training) at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., attaining the 12C Bridge Crewmember Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). His first enlisted assignment was in Hanau, Germany with the 814th Engineer Company during the end of the Cold War. He was then assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he served with the 264th Engineer Company (Airborne). During this assignment he was able to attend and complete the Basic Airborne School, the Sapper Leader School and the Primary Leadership Development Course.
In 1993 Ojeda received a "Green to Gold" Scholarship and returned to West Virginia to attend the West Virginia State University. During this time he continued his service by serving with the West Virginia National Guard. In 1997, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in General Education and received a commission to the Engineer Corps. Later he also earned a Master of Arts Degree in Business and Organizational Security from Webster University.
As an officer he has served various assignments: Sapper Platoon Leader; Light Equipment Platoon Leader; Company Executive Officer, Battalion S3 Air Officer and Battalion Maintenance Officer, Assistant Division Engineer Officer; Brigade (Combat)(Airborne) S3 Air Officer; Company Commander; Engineer Brigade Chief of Operations Officer; Engineer Battalion Executive Officer; Airborne Division S3 Operations Officer, Special Troops Battalion Global Response Force; and Team Leader, Security Forces Assistance Team in support of Operation Enduring Freedom XI. He has been deployed to South Korea, Iraq (two times); Haiti (in support of Operation Unified Response immediately following the 2010 earthquake); and to Afghanistan prior to his assignment in Beckley, W.Va.
His military education includes Bridge Crewmember Advanced Individual Training Courses; Combat Lifesaver Course; Primary leadership Development Course; Basic Airborne Course; Sapper Leader Course, 101st Airborne Division Air Assault Course; 82nd Airborne Division Advanced Airborne Course; 82nd Airborne Division Master Jumpmaster Course; Engineer Officer Basic and Advanced Courses; Combined Arms Service Staff School (CAS3); Pre-Company Commander Course; Maintenance Management Course; Air Movement Operations Course; US Air Force Airlift Planners Course; Command General Staff College (ILE); Combat Transition Advisor's Course; and the Army Recruiting Command's Executive Officer Course.
His military decorations include the Bronze Star Medal (with oak leaf cluster); Meritorious Service Medal; Army Commendation Medal (with silver and bronze oak leaf cluster); Army Achievement Medal (with four oak leaf clusters); Meritorious Unit Citation (with two oak leaf clusters); Army Superior Unit Award; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal (with Bronze Star); Afghanistan Campaign Medal (with two Bronze Stars); Iraqi Campaign Medal (with two Bronze Stars); Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Korean Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Service Medal; Humanitarian Service Medal; Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal; Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon (with Numeral 4); NATO Medal; Combat Action Badge; Master Parachutist Badge; Air Assault Badge; Drivers Badge; Sapper Tab; German Bronze Schutzenschnur; and Canadian, German, Venezuelan, Chilean, Egyptian, Kuwaiti and Pakistani Parachutist Badges. He is also the recipient of the Engineer Regiment Bronze Order of The De Fleury Medal and the 20th Engineer Brigade's "100 Jump Club," Centurion Jumper Pin.
Ojeda was also recognized in 2005 when he was presented with West Virginia's "Distinguished Mountaineer" award by (then) Governor Joseph Manchin and was honored again with this award in 2012 by (current) Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
The State of the Union address, as specified by Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, is a report presented to the United States Congress by the President of the United States and is typically delivered annually. It normally not only reports on the condition of the nation but it also gives presidents a forum to outline their proposed legislative and their national priorities. While the Constitution doesn't actually require the president to deliver a speech, every president since Woodrow Wilson has made at least one State of the Union report as a speech delivered before a joint session of Congress. Before that time, most presidents delivered the State of the Union as a written report.
George Washington delivered the first regular annual message before a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1790 in New York City, then the provisional U.S. capital. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of delivering the address in person, regarding it as being too much like what a king would do. Instead, the address was written and then sent to Congress to be read by a clerk. That process lasted until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson re-established the speech practice; however, there have been exceptions to this policy. Presidents during the latter half of the 20th century sent them as written State of the Union reports. The last President to do this was Jimmy Carter in 1981.