OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Demetre Riles was born and raised in Okeechobee, graduated from Okeechobee High School and then went to Bethune-Cookman University on a basketball scholarship. After two years, he made the decision to join the Army and better his life, because his first child was on the way. He went to basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala., and then did his AIT training as an MP there as well. All together, he was there for about 24 weeks.
When he finished his training, he was sent to Fort Greely, Alaska. “It was a remote location, kind of like Jurassic Park,” he laughed. “You’d see everything from bald eagles to bears, moose, you name it.” The nearest town was The North Pole, but he said it wasn’t really the North Pole, it was just a town named The North Pole.
While he was there, he served as a military police officer. He did the same things on the base that a police officer in a town would do, he explained. He did a lot of training as well so he didn’t lose any of his skills for his next duty station. He was in Alaska for two years.
After he left Alaska, he returned to Fort McClellan to a mobile combat unit. While there, he did security for the 1996 Olympics. When the bombing happened in Atlanta, he was right down the street, attached to a Marine recon unit.
He was deployed to Honduras for nine months while he was stationed at Fort McClellan. An airplane had crashed on the runway. “Just imagine an airplane crashing on the interstate in a major city,” he said. “The highway is below the interstate. There are pieces of the plane everywhere. They had to recover it and do an investigation.” He was part of the security team for that. It was 12-hour shifts for him and another man for a month and a half. They switched off. “That was actually kind of scary,” he said. “In that country, they were walking around with shotguns and machetes, and it was in the main city.”
After he left Fort McClellan, he was sent to Fort Monroe, Va., where he served as an MP for about two years. There were a lot of generals and officers on that base, and they did a lot of ceremonies there. The base was more political than most, he said.
When he left there, he became a recruiter. He was trained at Fort Jackson, S.C., and was stationed at Miami Beach and liked it so much he changed his career field to become a permanent recruiter. He was in Miami for about six years when he was accepted into special operations recruiting. They would go and specifically recruit guys for special forces, he explained. “Those are like the Michael Jordans of the Army.” He recruited them from within the ranks of the Army. The training is designed to make them quit, he said. He looked for the guys who put themselves second. The ones who would never leave anybody behind. In order to be a successful recruiter, he had to go through the training himself. His first assignment as a special operations recruiter was in Heidelberg, Germany. He recruited from all the bases and units around Europe to see who would make the cut. He looked at their records and test scores, to see if they mentally and physically qualified. Then they trained them to get them acclimated to what they would be facing during selection. There is only about a 20% pass rate, so they try to train them in advance to prepare them for what they will be coming up against. He spent about four years in Germany and then went to Fort Stewart, Ga. At Fort Stewart, he was still doing special ops recruiting.
One of the things he is most proud if is the fact he is an Audie Murphy inductee. Less than 0.1% of the Army are Audie Murphy inductees, he said. The Sergeant Audie Murphy Club is a private U.S. Army organization for enlisted non-commissioned officers (NCO) only. Those NCOs whose leadership achievements and performance merit special recognition may possibly earn the reward of membership. Members must exemplify leadership characterized by personal concern for the needs, training, development and welfare of soldiers and concern for families of soldiers. “It’s very prestigious and a great honor,” he said.
After this, he came out of special operations to a new assignment of recruiter investigator. He worked at the main headquarters of Fort Knox and went around the United States training recruiting battalions and recruiting stations on policies and procedures when it comes to recruiting to make sure there is no cheating, no fraud. They collect data and analyze it. For example, say, they went to Louisiana. First, they would pull all the data, all the test scores and physicals. They would see all that and try to find trends, look to see if anyone is doing anything illegal. Look at all the documents. They are like the police force, the detectives of recruiting. He did this until he retired at about 40 years old.
After he retired, he joined his family in Augusta, Ga., but after a few years, a basketball job came open in Okeechobee and that being something he always wanted to do, he moved here so he could take the job. The Riles have a total of six children. One daughter is an Army nurse stationed in Augusta, Ga. Their son graduated from the University of South Florida last summer majoring in business analytics and IT. Another daughter is a pharmacy technician in Mississippi. and another daughter is working here in Okeechobee. The twin girls are in tenth grade at Okeechobee High School. The family has been back in Okeechobee since 2014. Mr. Riles’ wife, Rondia, passed away in December of 2018 after a battle with breast cancer.
Mr. Riles is running for county commissioner in the upcoming election. He made the decision to run because when he came back and began to deal with the youth and the community he saw firsthand the struggle that every child is going through every day. He looks around the neighborhood he would be representing, the neighborhood he grew up in, and he sees there is very little change from when he was a child. “In my 40-something years of being affiliated with Okeechobee and being all across the country and seeing things in other places, to me this is unacceptable,” he said. “I feel I can make a difference and make a change in the community I grew up in. I want to give back to the community I grew up in. I take it very seriously when it comes to the community I live in.”
One of the things he wanted to make sure people understood is that when it comes to the race for county commissioner, you have to live in the area you are running for, but you do not have to live in that area to vote for him. Everyone in Okeechobee can vote for all the open commission seats no matter where you live. Another thing he said can be sometimes confusing is that in the primary election, you can only vote inside your party. If you are a Democrat, you only vote for the Democrat you like the best. If you are a Republican, you choose the Republican you like the best. But then when the general election takes place, it does not matter which party you are. You can vote for Democrat or Republican or if someone is running who is not affiliated with a party, you can vote for them. “Your vote can make a difference,” he said. “Please go vote.”