By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Three weeks into life as a West Point cadet and Rick Lynch was ready to go home. It was culture shock.
He called his dad, Calvin, in Hamilton, Ohio, and said, “I can’t stand this place. I’m coming home.”
“Where you gonna live?” came the reply.
“He says, ‘You started it, you finish it,’” Lynch said last week.
And he did.
Lynch took over command of III Corps and Fort Hood on July 18 and he was promoted to lieutenant general — a far cry from the cadet who wanted to leave West Point in the 1970s.
Even though he graduated from the military academy in 1977, he had plans of staying in the Army for only five years. After that he was done.
That was 31 years ago.
People often ask Lynch why he decided to stay and he tells them that it’s because what soldiers do is “so very important.”
In the Army one can look in the mirror and the reflection back is someone making a difference, he said.
It’s a true personal sacrifice for the greater good to ensure that his children and his children’s children have the same freedoms he enjoys, he added.
Calvin Lynch served two years in the U.S. Army after he was drafted in 1945, but the military wasn’t a big topic of discussion around the Lynch house.
Hamilton was a blue-collar town, Lynch said. Everybody worked at the paper mill, including Calvin.
The general knew that his parents couldn’t afford to send him to college, so he asked his high school guidance counselor, with whom he still keeps in contact, what his options were. There are these things called military academies, she told him, and they pay you to go.
Lynch quickly applied to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. The acceptance letter came on Monday from West Point and on Tuesday from Annapolis.
Rick Lynch was going to be a soldier.
“So the postman really determined my fate,” he said.
When he talked about going to West Point, Calvin had a few things to say:
“Boy, what would you want to do that for?”
“You won’t like the Army and the Army won’t like you.”
Lynch set off for West Point after high school.
“It was purely an adventure into the unknown,” he said.
If you go to Hamilton, Ohio, today and go to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, there will be an 80-something-year-old man there wearing a ball cap emblazoned with three stars. That’s Calvin.
“ ... Every time I get promoted, he promotes himself,” Lynch said with a chuckle.
“He’s very proud.”
The three-star general still calls home every Sunday. It’s something he’s done every week since he walked out the door for West Point. It’s become so expected that if he doesn’t call, “there’s great concern,” he said.
Starting at Fort Hood
It was after graduating from West Point that a young engineer officer came to Fort Hood, following a mentor. Lynch would spend six years at Fort Hood before transferring to the armor branch four years later.
He led several companies at Fort Hood and in his spare time, would play softball — his passion. His passion, that is, until he met Sarah Cockerham.
Lynch wanted to register his team, which was sponsored by a local bar, with the Killeen Parks and Recreation league. When he got to the registration office, Sarah’s secretary was out to lunch.
“And the way the story goes from my perspective, she just fell in love with this dashing young captain,” Lynch said with a sly smile. “So she bugged me for about six weeks until I would finally take her out and I finally took her out ... and that’s not true.”
What really happened, he admitted, was that he fell in love “instantaneously” and spent $600 on flowers until she agreed to go out with him.
See, while the young captain didn’t have an extensive military history, this world was not new to Sarah. Her father was a retired master sergeant and her mother was in the Women’s Army Corps. Sarah’s dad was adamant that his daughter was never going to date a “G.I.,” Lynch said, and “that was in her mind until she met me.”
They were married in December of 1982.
A year later they left for Fort Knox, where their daughter was born. The Lynches then moved to Boston where their son was born.
The family moved to Boston so the general could study a new field of technology. Lynch got a call from the Training and Doctrine Command that the Army needed someone to study robotics. He had a choice of three prestigious schools. As soon as the call ended, he got out a dictionary and looked up “robotics.”
“And I said OK, I’ll do that,” he said.
“I have a passion for unmanned vehicles and I have ever since.”
Lynch’s career has taken his family all over the world, including multiple stops “back home” at Fort Hood.
The Lynches consider the area home because of Sarah’s ties and the time the general has spent in Fort Hood units.
He served as commander of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, from May 1993 to July 1995; commander of the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team from April 1997 to May 1999; and as the 4th Infantry’s assistant division commander for support from June 2001 to July 2002.
His latest assignment was leading the 3rd Infantry Division and he returned on June 2 from 15 months in Iraq leading the 3rd Infantry Division.
Sarah’s mother and two brothers live in the area and her sister lives in Gatesville.
The family bought a Harker Heights home in 1993 and their two children graduated as Knights. Lynch’s goal now is to build on their lakefront property at Lake Stillhouse. It’s where they will retire, he said.
Aside from being so close to family, Lynch said he loves the people, the community and the fact that he can ride his Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic year round.
Riding gives Lynch freedom and a way to clear his mind.
“I like the fact that when you’re on a motorcycle, it’s really the only time you can truly forget everything else because you have to focus on riding the motorcycle,” he said.
A consuming mission
Focus is something Lynch needed in his last assignment. Although he found out the possibility of his Fort Hood position in January, he had to focus on the task at hand.
Leading a division in combat is consuming, he said. A commander is constantly thinking, “What should I be doing that I’m not doing?” he said.
It was during that last deployment to Iraq that Lynch lost 153 soldiers.
“Am I doing everything I can do preclude loss of lives?” He would ask himself.
He was responsible for every soldier in his command.
“I made the decision that those soldiers would go to that place,” he said.
“What are we missing?” He’d ask himself again. “Is there something we ought to be doing?”
Lynch attended 153 memorial ceremonies in 15 months. He has 153 photos on his desk at III Corps headquarters and he prays for 153 soldiers and their families every day.
Lynch still grieves. Those 153 soldiers has futures, had plans to live life beyond the time they had and had visions for tomorrow that will never be realized, Lynch said.
“I mourn their loss every day,” he said. “A lot of us live for tomorrow, but there’s no guarantee there will be a tomorrow. That’s what Iraq reminded me of.”
When thinking of these men and women, Lynch asks himself, “Is it worth it?”
Those 153 families would probably say no, Lynch said, but from a national perspective it is worth it.
“We’re ensuring we have way of life and freedoms we have tomorrow that we have today,” he said. “We are indeed in the Global War on Terrorism. We’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.”
Faith is important to Lynch. He not only prays for his soldiers, but studies the Bible daily.
He knows that he has been blessed professionally and personally. Lynch considers being chosen to lead Fort Hood is a continuation of God’s plan.
“These don’t mean a lot to me,” Lynch said, tugging at the three stars Velcroed to his chest. “The mark of a man is not the position he attains or the rank that he holds, but the people that he touches.”
To lead is also to serve, he said, and that’s what he and his wife are ready to do.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547.