Larry Riley, commander of American Legion Head-Endres Post 26, said his heart “swelled up,” as he watched his granddaughter, Rebecca Lonsdale, 18, of Greenfield follow in his boot steps by joining the U. S. Army National Guard May 29.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Gosh, I was proud.”
Lonsdale, a 2019 Nodaway Valley High School graduate, said she joined the Army National Guard because she lacked a sense of direction.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do college wise ... my grandpa was in, so that inspired me a little bit,” she said. “I just felt like it would add more structure to my life, and it did.”
Lonsdale said basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee, Virginia, this summer gave her a better understanding about what she’s in for.
She said the days were long and hot– with heat indexes reaching to 120-Fahrenheit – which made the twice daily two-mile runs with 50-pound ruck packs difficult.
“You have to have a good, positive mindset going in otherwise you won’t make it very far,” Lonsdale said.
Lonsdale, who placed 4th in hurdles at the 2018 state track and field competition said army training is demanding. However, she’s in even better shape than when she was participating in high school sports.
“I am physically fit now. I started out a 19-minute two-mile and I can now do a 15-minute two-mile. I impressed myself. I was in shock, but they get you in shape really quick,” she said.
When asked if the possibility of being deployed scares her, she said she’s nervous.
“After they talked to us about all that stuff, it made me realize ... I joined to serve my country, so I need to do whatever I need to do, she said. “I finally have the mindset if I do deploy, I’ll do my duty and I’ll come back. I’m still nervous about it, but I could go at any time.”
In 1965, 24-year-old Riley said he wasn’t planning on joining the army, but at that time, all men over the age of 18 were required to participate in the pre-draft process, starting with an induction physical. He completed the physical but was deferred a draft because, he had just signed a contract with the Greenfield School District and the government was not deploying teachers.
“It was a stroke of luck,” he said.
However, a friend of his working in the district told him he could get him into the Iowa National Guard, through which he could attend Officers Candidate School and be trained as a civilian or as enlisted personnel with the intention of gaining commission as an officer of the Armed Forces.
“I thought, I could go that route ... and that’s when I signed up for Iowa National Guard,” he said.
After completing drills in Corning, Riley departed for basic training in Fort Louis in Washington in April. Upon his return, He started courting Barb, now his wife, who he met through a fellow coach at the sectionals wrestling tournament. During their courtship, Riley was sent to Officers Candidate School in Camp Dodge for 10 weeks.
“I was so lonesome for Barb I about died,” he said. “I told her, ‘If they send me anywhere again, you’re going with.”
Despite missing Barb, Riley said the 10 weeks of advance training was “some of the best schooling I’d ever have.”
Riley not only used his military experience to mentor his granddaughter, but he has used his training as a shop teacher and wrestling coach within his classroom and on the mat.
“I taught for 40 years and never sent anyone to the office,” he said. “I had my little spot out in the shop where I took care of things. You know, ‘What’s your problem? I’m on your side.’”
Riley said he used his military training almost every day at school.
“You have your place ... Those kids come in my classroom, and they had their exact place,” said Riley. “I can still remember in my mind where they sit, and that way you take roll just like that. I didn’t like wasting time.”
Riley said he held his students to hire expectations – nothing was left out of place or on the floor when they departed his classroom. He drilled his wrestling team members as they packed their bags and ordered them in the best way to load and unload the bus in the most efficient fashion.
“So, when I got there, you’d be ready to wrestle,” he said.
For Riley, he said teaching and coaching was very similar to the motto he learned in basic training: “Cooperate and graduate.”
While Riley does not qualify to be a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but he is involved with veteran’s affairs as the commander of the American Legion. In this role, he said the most meaningful duty he has is participating in funeral services for local veterans.
“Sometimes it’s pretty hard to do when you have to present it to a really good friend. I’ve been here long enough, gosh, I’ve presented to former students,” he said.
Services by the American Legion involves the presentation of an American flag to the family, a three-volley salute and good bye Taps.
Riley said he sometimes feels compelled to say more than the generic reading: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force of Coast Guard ), and a grateful nation ...”
One of the most difficult services for Riley was that of Dr. Joseph Baker.
“I told them, ‘Barb and Larry Riley have three wonderful children and the first person to touch them was Doctor Baker and the first breath of air in their whole life was induced by Doctor Baker. They are the light of my life,’” said Riley. “That was hard. I was presenting the flag to the person who brought our three children into the world. That was hard.”