Since graduating from Elizabethton High School in 1990, Ricky Arnett has dedicated his adult life to the military. The Carter County native continues to serve in the U.S. Army as a member of 172nd Stryker Brigade and is stationed at Fort Lee, Va.
Arnett, who is the son of Jess and Carol Arnett of Elizabethton, noted his father served as an officer with the Tennessee Highway Patrol for more than 25 years. “My dad was a big reason for my decision to join the Army. He encouraged me to enlist,” Arnett said.
In 1989, Arnett’s father accompanied him to the local Tennessee National Guard Recruiting Station where the EHS Senior enlisted for duty in the service. Arnett began his basic training once he graduated from high school in 1990.
The following year, Arnett commented that he made the decision to make the military a full-time career, enlisting in the United States Army. For the first of his seven years in the Army, Arnett served a 91P MEDDAC, which is an x-ray technician. His wife, Brandy, said he was stationed at numerous Army hospitals across the globe. She commented that he worked at military hospitals in Germany, California and Texas.
After working in the medical field for several years, Arnett received a duty transfer from his superior officers. A few years prior to the beginning of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Arnett was reassigned to the 172nd Stryker Brigades.
A Stryker brigade combat team–or SBCT–is comprised of some of the military’s most highly-trained personnel. One of the primary strategic and tactical benefits a Stryker Brigade affords to the Army is their ability to be quickly deployed to a theatre of operations. Within 96 hours, a Stryker brigade can be transported by C-130 Hercules aircraft to anywhere in the world. Stryker Brigades were initially designed to fill a gap between light infantry and heavy-armored infantry brigades.
The Stryker brigade utilizes light armored vehicles, including the LAV III armored vehicle and the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The LAV III is a light-armored vehicle that has been in use since the turn of the century. Unlike larger tanks, such as the Abrams M1-A2 main battle tank, the LAV III is a much more mobile vehicle. Built by General Dynamics, the LAV III has a top speed of more than 60 MPH.
From 2000 to 2009, Arnett was stationed with the 172nd Stryker Brigade in Fort Wainwright, AK. The brigade, which is also known as the “Arctic Warriors,” was part of the Department of Defense’s overall effort to transition the military to Post-Cold War operations.
As a member of the 172nd Stryker Brigade, Arnett was deployed to Iraq in late August, 2005. Arnett’s first tour-of-duty in Iraq lasted for 16 months. His wife said, “He endured a lot while he was there. 130-plus degree temperatures, up to 30 days without being able to bathe, having to sleep in full uniform because of incoming mortars and missiles and having to eat those dreadful MRE’s (meals ready-to-eat). No one really knows what these men truly have to endure to protect not only us, but also those in other countries.”
Arnett commented on the different risks faced by American soldiers in Iraq. “Even on base, we were always getting mortared. You have to be on guard because of the mortars coming in over the wire. Nobody ever really got hurt or injured by those mortars, but the risk was there,” Arnett said.
Improvised explosive devices–or IED’s–were one of the greatest dangers that Arnett and other military personnel faced in Iraq. Arnett’s wife recalled, “While on tour in Iraq, he witnessed our neighbor perish due to an IED. His friend was one of many who were killed by IED’s or suicide bombers.”
After returning from his first tour of Iraq, Arnett returned to the Middle East for his final deployment in the spring of 2009. After serving in the region for 18 months, he came home to his wife at Fort Lee, Va.
Each time he has returned from a deployment, Arnett said it is difficult to explain the emotions he feels when he is reunited with his wife. “It’s coming back to where your heart is. That’s the only way I know how to explain it,” Arnett said.
Arnett explained one of the most difficult aspects of a life in the military is being separated from his family and friends. He noted that it is “really tough being away from my wife for so long. I know it has been hard on her, too.” Arnett added, however, the Internet has made it much easier for a G.I. to keep in touch with those at home than ever before. “When we were able to get Internet access in Iraq, a lot of us used Skype to communicate with our wives and the rest of our family and friends,” said Arnett.
With many American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines stationed across the globe, Arnett said he encourages everyone to participate in the “Adopt-a-Soldier” program. He noted that the program provides a “morale boost” to troops away from home. “I can’t tell you how much it meant to us to get a letter, some candy, a package of socks or some other convenience from home. We received a lot of different things from people. One time, somebody sent us a Playstation 3. While it can’t replace being at home, it was still great to be able to get a piece of home,” he commented.
Since returning from Iraq, Arnett and his wife have been living at Fort Lee, which is located between Richmond and Williamsburg, Va. He is presently serving as an AIT (advanced individual training) instructor and squad leader. Having attained the rank of staff sergeant, Arnett’s wife said gets up every morning at 3 a.m. for physical training instruction. Later in the day, he teaches classes until 6 p.m. “My husband is also attending night classes to be a registered nurse. He gets home most nights by 11 p.m. He truly loves what he does. My husband is a dedicated soul. I know he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Arnett said he is scheduled to retire from the Army in 2014. He commented that he is eager to begin a career in the nursing field once he has completed his time in the service. Arnett is also looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time with his wife. “We have been married for the last 18 years. In that time, however, we’ve probably only seen each other for about eight of those years. I know the Army life has been very hard on Brandy, but she is a tough woman. I can’t wait to the day when I can have a normal 9 to 5 job and spend some quality time with her,” Arnett explained.