GURDON, Ark. — Michael L. Rhodes has dedicated his life to serving America's vets.
He has been involved with Veterans of Foreign Wars for 22 years. Serving out of Post 4562 in Texarkana, Arkansas, this civic organization dedicated to veterans is a continuation of his devotion to service, going back to his years in the U.S. Navy.
"I originally started out as a Navy cook, assigned to the USS Blue Ridge in the Seventh Fleet, home port of Japan," said Rhodes, 47. "My years with Blue Ridge were formative, as I had my first formative Navy experiences while on board. That was the ship I endured the Shellback Ceremony (the initiation ritual all American sailors go through when they cross the Equator for the first time)."
Blue Ridge's next formative experience for Rhodes was parking off Kuwait in support of naval operations in the early 90s. Blue Ridge was a communications ship, providing information operations support for Navy assets operating in the area.
After that, it was another ship assignment in 1995. This time, it was he USS Nimitz, a famous aircraft carrier whose home port was Washington State. Nimitz would be his last assignment on active duty, once again supporting operations in the Kuwait region. At that point, Rhodes left active duty and joined the Naval Reserve.
"While I was on reserve status, 9-11 happened," he said. "At this point, I had re-classed as a Seabee (Navy Engineer) and I found myself being redeployed to Kuwait once again. Nothing too crazy happened there, though I did accidentally try catburger. Yes, it is what it sounds like and I spat it out when they told me what it was. Otherwise, I did the job and came back home with my Seabee unit."
Rhodes was injured while on duty and medically retired, but his service did not end with his discharge.
He had been working with the Veterans of Foreign Wars while with the Navy and this continued after his time with the Navy concluded. He is now married to Christi, and they have eight children, four boys and four girls, whose ages range from 13 to 34. Four of the children are adopted.
Rhodes does encourage service in his children, though it is the youngest who has expressed interest in military service.
"My youngest daughter, Harley (13), has said she wants to join the Air Force," he said. "I tell them all, if any of them are considering military service, it is up to them."
But to the veterans he works with and all others past and present, he is grateful to them.
"I thank all those who have served and are serving now. You are all appreciated and remembered."