By Ann Bryant, Staff Writer
FARMINGTON — A life of discipline, value and purpose were words voiced as Ray Edgar talked about his 27 years in the Army, years which included two tours of Iraq as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “I worked with the greatest people who were selfless and honorable. They didn’t put self before someone in need.”
Edgar retired in 2010 as a Sgt. Major, E9, the highest enlisted rank possible. He grew up in Farmington and graduated from Mt. Blue High School in 1983. Not ready for college, he enlisted in the Army that same summer and has spent most of the years since leading others.
But, he also wanted to serve and felt the responsibility to do so. There are usually some strong family connections with people who serve and they understand the value and benefits, he said.
Edgar’s father, Donald, earned four combat stars during his Army service in World War II. His father didn’t talk a lot about his experience but he had an impact on Ray’s enlisting, he said.
“The Army reinforced what my parents told me but I chose not to hear,” he said. “My Dad would say whatever you are doing, whether cleaning a toilet, do it to your best ability.”
Edgar completed a number of different assignments in the United States, Germany and combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He moved 17 times in those 27 years and was away from his wife a lot including a tour in Iraq in 2004 and a second, 15-month, tour that began in 2006 and ended in 2007, he said.
He was in the service for nearly 20 years when 911 occurred and the war started, he said.
Joining the 82nd Airborne required a major adjustment to meet the physical and mental demands of being a paratrooper, he said.
For someone who doesn’t do well with heights, jumping out of an airplane at 800-feet in the midst of combat action is different, he said. With humor, he said the fear of failure was a good motivator.
But, with a disciplined focus, the men who served in the unit remembered the history of the 82nd Airborne and those who served since World War II. We wanted to continue that reputation and honor the sacrifice they made, he said.
As the senior enlisted officer in the squadron, Edgar was over 1,100 men at different times. There were about 500 in the original squadron. Of those 500, 22 were killed and 82 wounded during those 15 months.
“The unit was given the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest award given for valor in combat,” he said.
Iraq was a hard adjustment because of the losses, the friends taken in combat, he said. One day you are talking to an 18-year-old and the next day he is gone.
Edgar said his leading style was strict and tough but it changed. He still enforced discipline but led with more compassion.
The work the unit did produced measurable results. Areas were better off after they were there. Children in those areas were able to go back to school.
“I saw unit members do some of the most selfless actions I’ve ever seen,” he said. It is something remembered when he, or he sees someone else, struggling with everyday issues.
But, it is not about feeling sorry for veterans. It is about understanding and honoring what they have done.
Edgar earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Training Development and a Master of Science degree in Human Resources Leadership.
After retiring in 2010, Edgar worked for a consulting firm in program management in Kentucky and lived a different life there. But, the lure to come home was strong.
Every time he came home to visit his parents, three sisters and their families, it was harder to leave. The couple enjoy the outdoors, skiing and snowmobiling. His wife was close to his sisters, all factors in their decision to come back to Farmington.
After returning home three years ago, he went back to school to become a personal trainer at the University of Maine at Farmington. He teaches a couple group fitness classes and works with people to help them reach their goals, he said.
His wife, Sharon, also a veteran whom he met in the service, is an RN in the Emergency Room at Franklin Memorial Hospital, he said.
He still keeps in touch with his military family. The bonds are strong. There were a lot of great people who faced combat without losing their sense of humor, he said.