Rider returns home from Iraq with thanks
Tony Rider just returned from his third stint in Iraq all in one piece. And, yes, as a member of the 24th Marine Corps Reserves anti-tank platoon, he saw real action.
But, it's not a third time is a charm and he's done situation for Rider, a 1987 Baldwin High School and 1993 Baker University graduate who now lives in Shawnee. His current Marine reserves contract runs out in January. He's already re-enlisted for three years.
So, there could be another deployment for Rider, who actually volunteered for this most recent stint. He barely got to see the birth of this third child, Hayden, who just turned a year old. And, yes, he knows his service isn't easy on his wife, Tracy, or other two girls, Jordan, 8, and Ashton, 5.
But, he also knows how he believes.
"It's harder on them and it's harder on me with my decision to do that," Rider said of his family. "Daddy's leaving and why? It's the big picture. The global war on terror. It's easy for me to say that. I know what those people want to do to our way of life. It's not just Sudam Huisen or weapons of mass destruction, it's what they want to do against what we believe in.
"I know the pain I've put them through, but I'm securing a future for them as well," he said, again about his family.
Rider feels that pain, too. He's the one that's missed years of his girls growing up. His oldest daughter clings to him and is very close. The middle girl didn't recognize him when he came back from his second stint. His youngest doesn't even know who he is. Leaving the family is the hardest.
"It is," said Rider. "The hurt that you're putting them through and the pain. Families make more sacrifices than we do. We volunteer to do this. I volunteered (for the last stint) when I didn't have to go because my platoon volunteered and they hadn't been there before. I had the experience. They didn't. I wanted to go."
He's been doing it for awhile, too. Straight out of BHS, he joined the Marine reserves. He spent a year in training and other items before heading to Baker, where he only did the weekend a month and two weeks a year service in the reserves. But, that didn't last.
When the first war in Iraq started, Desert Storm, in 1990, Rider was deployed in December. That came as a surprise for the Wildcat.
"I sure was," he said. "I got yanked out at the end of the first semester of my sophomore year," he said.
He came back, graduated from Baker and moved on. He met his wife at Baker and owns and operates two Mr. Goodsense sandwich shops, one in Bonner Springs and one in Kansas City. But, when the second round opened up in Iraq, Rider was called again. He served from February of 2003 to October of 2003. Then he volunteered for the next trip, which lasted from December of 2004 to October of this year.
"I've been on three deployments and they seem to be getting longer," said Rider. "It's not suppose to work that way, but it did."
Rider's parents, Jerry and Paula Moore, still live in Baldwin. Moore works at McFarlane Aviation in Vinland. On Wednesday, Rider was there to thank owner Dave McFarlane and the employees.
It was care packages that the employees put together and McFarlane shipped, as well as contributed to, that helped Rider and his platoon make it through the dangerous time in Iraq. He brought lunch ... and a surprise.
"I just wanted to thank them for the support and all they gave me and my guys," said Rider. "From my experience in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, I knew the country would support us. I know that people still care. The last deployment just meant that much more. But, my father's company getting all that together and funding that for all my platoon meant a lot.
"Someone ultimately has to pay to mail that and it's not cheap," he said. "All that just meant a lot to me an my guys. We appreciated that. The media doesn't always portray that. It's like kids at Christmas. Everybody's grabbing packages and saying, 'what did I get, what did I get.'"
Rider also had a special presentation for McFarlane. It's a flag that flew over the post where Rider served the last stint -- Camp Fallujah.
Staff Sgt. Rider didn't have to lead his troops this time in what they're trained for as an anti-tank platoon.
"We're in the infantry. We engage enemy armory," he said. "That wasn't the threat this year. We did a lot of raids. I'm a section leader in charge of 35 men over there."
At Camp Fallujah -- "over there" -- Rider and his platoon was in a very dangerous area. It's an area where television crews routinely show the car bombings, the various other attacks and the every day threat against American troops. The death toll to the troops went past the 3,000 mark in October. Rider was in the thick of it.
"The last two months they moved us to an area where there were a lot of bad guys," said Rider. "The last three months were real interesting, real busy."
Miraculously, Rider didn't get hurt. There wasn't a purple heart for Rider, but there were plenty of them handed out to his men.
"We probably had eight to 10 in our platoon that got them," he said of the awards given for injuries suffered in battle. "We got them all back alive. My best friend lost his leg. He's back and doing fine, dealing with it well. We got banged up, but we got back.
"As a leader, that's all I cared about," he said. "It's not how many enemy I get, but getting my guys home. I'm pleased with that."
Maple Leaf ... return
Oddly enough, Rider got back from his latest stint just in time for one of his favorite events of all time -- Baldwin's Maple Leaf Festival, which was Oct. 15-16.
"I got home the night before," he said. "My whole goal was I wanted to be home for Maple Leaf. Growing up in Baldwin, Maple Leaf is Baldwin. It's like a family reunion. It worked out well. I got home on Friday and came to Baldwin Saturday. My kids got to see the parade.
"I still call Baldwin home," Rider said. "There are still friends here. Hopefully, some day I'll be back in Baldwin raising my family."
But, he also knows there's another return possible. After 13 years in the reserves, he know that re-enlisting for another three could mean another trip overseas.
"Being in the military, being in the reserves, I could be redeployed," said Rider. "It will be two years before that can happen again. I don't think I could get away with volunteering again."
Why? That's easy. His wife, Tracy ... and someone else.
"Between her and my mother," he said.
"Well, you know, the deployments are rough, but he believes in what he does, so we support him in that," his mother, Paula, said. "I'm proud of him. But I'm pretty sure it's easier to be his mom than his wife. I'm more proud of Tracy and all that she does -- and puts up with. She's the best."
There's something else Rider knows about serving his country again. He'd do it again, but...
"I don't want to go to Iraq again," said Rider. "I'd like to see the world; somewhere different. But, not Iraq. I'm tired of that area."