I recently sat down for an interview at the Barron Park House Gallery, with Richard Reynolds, a USAF veteran who has grown up in LaBelle. One of his sisters, Vicki Reynolds, half of the two peas at Two Peas Café, had told me all about Richard, and suggested him for the veteran series I have been writing. The Gallery is in the old Christie house that was built in 1914. Interestingly, he mentions that he remembers playing in this house, as a young boy, a fascinating clue to how much history he and his family have in our beloved community.
Richard Reynolds spent nine years in the Boy Scouts, where he learned discipline and the ability to follow directions. As he went from Cub Scout to Explorer Scout, he says he always knew he would join the military, a dream he had thought of from as far back as he could remember. He says that being a Scout helped prepare him for life in the military, and that meant that bootcamp was not nearly as hard of a struggle as it was for the others who had never experienced being a Boy Scout.
Bootcamp was, of course, not all fun and games for Reynolds. He quickly learned about waking up early and eating quickly, two things that in the laidback lifestyle of LaBelle had not been necessary. His first assignment was as a Nuclear Missile Technician, and he went on to become a Flight Engineer. After deployments to Southern and Northern Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, he received many citations and awards, among them an Air Expeditionary Service medal, Aerial Achievement medal, and Korean Service medal. When asked about memorable moments in his military career, he is humble and says that nothing truly exciting happened. However, he later recalls flying over Southern Iraq in the night sky and seeing muzzle flashes aimed at his aircraft. Luckily, they were not within range, and returned safely. He even tells of the time he was flying at 31,000 feet over Iraq during a meteor shower. “They looked like they were gonna come through the windshield!” says Reynolds. He eventually found himself in Okinawa, where he met his stunning wife, Trish, who was also in the Air Force. He retired as a Master Sergeant, after 17 years, so that his wife could become a First Sergeant. She retired from the USAF after 22 years.
His last days in the service were spent in Las Vegas, not a bad ending for this American hero. As many of our servicemen and women do, he experienced depression during the transition to civilian life. He tried to dive into DIY projects around the house, but not having as active and engaged day to day life as he did in the military, he found himself feeling a bit lost. He reconnected with a friend, a pilot he had met in Saudi Arabia, who was a Beach Body coach. This fellow veteran inspired him to get into the exercise program. Eventually becoming a Beach Body coach, himself, he found his way back out of the depression. He went on to work for a contractor in Oklahoma for a while, but after his wife had their second child, he decided to become a stay at home dad. He has stayed in contact with many of the people he served with, who became like family to him, and says of his time in the Air Force, “Joining was the absolute best decision I ever made.” He says he misses the comradery, and “big picture thinking,” the tight bonds that were formed.
Reynolds and his family have returned to Southwest Florida, now residing in Port Charlotte. They are active participants of the LaBelle Relay for Life each year. He has even found a new passion as a fossil hunter and is a big supporter of the LaBelle Fossil Camp run by his buddy, Scott Perry. He was even wearing his Fossil Camp shirt the day of the interview. He had actually just returned from a hunt for his interview, and his pockets were filled with the finds of the day. He plopped down a few fossilized fish scales on the desk for us to marvel at. Also, to my amazement, he even showed some photos of a mammoth leg bone he found, currently in about thousand pieces, that he is working to rebuild.
Before leaving, I asked what he might have to say for any veterans who are having a tough time, and might come across this article. He suggested reaching out, saying, “Get help. Find someone to talk to. Anyone. Friends, family, or other veterans. Just work to find someone you can talk to.”
If you are in need of support, remember the many, many people who are here to support you. From the VFW, DAV, VA, and American Legion, there are many who are ready to offer help. Please just reach out.
Though it never feels like it is ever enough, we thank you, veterans, for your service.