FORT BELVOIR, Va. (July 4, 2011)—Army Command Sgt. Major Jeff Mellinger is getting ready to retire and the Army thinks he's the last Vietnam-era draftee to do so.
His draft notice arrived in the mail in 1972 at his home in Eugene, Ore., at a time when tens of thousands of troops had been killed in Vietnam, anti-war protests were rampant, and soldiers who were returning home were treated as part of the problem.
But when Mellinger got the letter with a White House return address he says he was impressed that President Richard Nixon would write to him.
Although he was ready to serve in combat, he was instead assigned to be an office clerk in Germany, but he earned a spot in the Army Rangers, and went on to do 3,700 parachute jumps.
Right after 9/11, he was sent to ground zero as part of an advance party from the First Army.
Then he went to Iraq as the top enlisted soldier of the multi-national forces.
He said he survived 27 roadside bombings.
Mellinger says he's happy with the set-up of today's all-volunteer force, but he thinks contributions of draftees like himself have been forgotten.