Ritchie D. Holbrook is a U.S. Marine Corp veteran. He served from 1988 – 1992 in the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, H Company, Weapons Platoon. He was involved in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Provide Comfort. He was awarded 4X as a Rifle Expert and received the following medals: Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award.
Ritchie D. Holbrook, a Wilkes County native, was born into a hard-working family, on March 13, 1970. His father, Roscoe Holbrook, drove trucks for Chick Haven and worked at Abitibi Price; a factory that made particle board. His mother, Betty Holbrook, was mostly a stay-at-home mom, but she did secretarial work and worked some in the school cafeteria . . . “she did a lot of things.” He has one older sister named Kim Taylor.
When Ritchie graduated from high school in 1988, he joined the Marine Corps at age 18. He remembers coming home from the Military Enlistment Processing (MEP) Station to tell his family he had been accepted. It was an emotional announcement . . . “That was the only the second time in my life that I saw my dad cry. My sister wanted to strangle my recruiter.”
Ritchie recalled his reason for wanting to join the Marines, “because they’re the best!” He also remembers everyone telling him that he’d never make it, and he wanted to prove them wrong.
Shortly before leaving for boot camp, Ritchie remembers his dad taking him down to Abitibi to show him what his job was and introduce him too some friends. While they were coming back up the road, his father told him: Ritchie, I’m very proud of you for what you’ve done and chosen. Choosing to serve our country. Son, I don’t care if you scrub toilets for a living. The only thing I ask is that you make them shine. . . “ He just wanted me to make an honest living, and do the best I could at it. I’ve tried to live up to that ever since.”
Reflecting on early days, as a new recruit, Ritchie recalls his trip to boot camp . . .
“My recruiter picked me up at the MEP Station and from there we took a bus to Charlotte. From Charlotte on to Parris Island, South Carolina. I remember I got sworn in by an Air Force Colonel. Some were there getting sworn into active duty and other being sworn into a delayed entry program. He would say . . .
OK you, you keep going home and stay in touch with your recruiter. You’re going in the Air Force . . . the bus leaves here. You’re going in the Navy . . . the bus leaves here. Jeff Anderson, Ritchie Holbrook . . . you’re going in the Marine Corp. God help both of you.
When speaking about those training days, Ritchie says all of it was bad . . . “The best day I had was when I graduated at Parris Island. I haven’t been back since I graduated. I have no fond memories.”
During this time, he had specialized training as a marksmanship instructor. Also in landmine warfare, demolitions, and breaching operations at the Second Marine Divisions, Demolitions and Advanced Demolition School. He was promoted from a private all the way up through to Corporal E4.
“Adjusting to the military lifestyle wasn’t the easiest thing, but the best part was the structure behind it. You know you’re here at this certain time and you leave at this certain time. Everything is structured and laid out for you, and you like that. I guess I can describe the Marine Corps sort of like taking a rubber band and putting two pencils in it . . . and twisting that rubber band until it’s just about to break. And then you twist it a little bit further, and a little bit further, and a little bit further . . .”
Following boot camp, Ritchie was stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. While there he did two deployments to the Mediterranean. He was deployed from Camp Lejeune to Iraq to serve in the Desert Storm campaign in 1991. Leaving home was hard, especially being away during the holidays . . . “Nowadays, things are more instant with face-timing and cellphones. It wasn’t available to me back then. We communicated through regular mail. And it was usually about two or three weeks behind. There was no email, no FaceTime, nothing. So we communicated the old-fashioned way.”
In his scrapbook are a number of photos showing Marines having fun and as a band of brothers. Looking at these photos, and recalling good memories, helps to deal with the struggles and hardships. Ritchie says, “I think back and laugh on some of it . . . we managed to find a way to have a good time no matter where we were at.”
“Some of the goofing off and pranks were memorable and Ritchie shared a few of those good-time memories. “Once we were all riding in a transport vehicle with a Turkish driver on our way to cross the Turkish border into Iraq. He was listening to strange middle-eastern music with foreign singing. When we finally had enough of this, one of my buddies made his way to the front of the bus and ripped out the annoying cassette from the tape deck, threw it out the window, and popped in some Van Halen. We went on rockin’ down the road. What was the driver going to do with a platoon of heavily armed Marines on his bus?”
“We worked hard, and we played hard too. One of the funniest memories that I have is of another good friend of mine, Scott. We were camped in Iraq and we’d managed to smuggle in a little alcohol. We all got a little tight one night and Scott stripped down to nothing but his boots and socks. Then he went running around the perimeter of the camp, singing the Marine Corp Hymn. Our Army brothers and sisters in the inner area of the camp got a big kick out of that.”
After talking about training and hard work, Ritchie agreed that friendships and the food were probably the best parts. He mentioned that he did have sort of a ‘good luck charm’ . . . “It was a Swiss Army Knife that my sister gave me. I got it not long after finishing boot camp and I took that knife with me overseas and everywhere I went. I still carry that knife today.”
Following service years, Ritchie says that it was a little difficult readjusting to civilian life. “You get used to that structure and everything you know. When that structure’s not there it’s kind of hard to adjust to that. You have to discipline yourself, although it is a relief not to have to get up in the morning and do workouts.”
When considering how time spent serving in the Marines changed him, Ritchie initially struggled with that concept. His wife, Heather, recalls hearing him tell about some things that he lived through and how he prefers not to revisit those memories. Always having awareness of surroundings is something that becomes second nature with military training. Ritchie told of one example; “Like whenever we go out to eat I always try to sit where I can see the door and window. Normally, she (Heather) knows where I would prefer to sit. If she doesn’t, she’ll ask me.”
Ritchie confesses that ever since he enlisted, he has seen so much from the bad side of human nature. After leaving the service, Ritchie worked as a North Carolina State Trooper up until 2018. Then be began working as a first responder with Wilkes County EMS. “It just wears on you after a while. My wife fusses at me all the time, but mostly I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy. I’m very pessimistic.”
Heather says, “He’s one of those people that when everybody is running away from something, he’s running towards it.” I mentioned to Ritchie that he must have a brave heart. He replied, “either that or a crazy nature, one of the two.”
Ritchie is a member of the Williams/Canter Marine Corps League Detachment 1187 in North Wilkesboro. And he has kept in touch with John Heberle, one of his best friends who he served with in Desert Storm. John lives in Florida, but they still get together from time-to-time.
In final thoughts about his military experience, Ritchie reflected again on how those years affected his life. “I think all experiences that you have in life go into making you the person that you are. Whether they’re good or bad. But it’s up to you to turn it, you know. If it’s a bad experience . . . turn it into a positive one and learn from it. It’s OK. I don’t blame people for their mistakes. I just ask them to own them, learn from them and not make the same mistake again.”
Ritchie shared a few thoughts for future generations and what it means to be a veteran. “Whether you served in peacetime or wartime, it’s a sacrifice. I mean, you give up the best years of your life in service to your country. You leave your families behind. Your life is dedicated and you’re there. Here or in a foreign land . . . it is a sacrifice. War is never something that you take lightly. But you know, no one ever twisted my arm to join. I knew what I was signing up for. You know, that’s what my country asked me to do and that’s what I did. Just have a little respect and common courtesy for your fellow man. Not just veterans, but everyone.”
And lastly . . . an important life-lesson, reinforced by service in the Marine Corp; “I can’t stand racism. It is just something that I can’t accept. I mean, I had friends that were Puerto Ricans, that were Mexicans, that were black, white . . . everything else. And you know, you don’t see that (race)? When you’re in there you don’t see a skin color. When you’re in there . . . you know, that man beside of you. He went through the same thing you did. You know . . . he’s a brother, a Marine. He’s got your back and you know, you’ve got his back too.”