This is a big November for Ronnie Hedrick.
On Nov. 6, he got married. Nov. 10 was the U.S. Marine Corps’ 246th birthday. Today is Veterans Day. Nov. 13 is his 31st birthday and the opening day of firearms hunting season. And on Nov. 18, he and his wife expect their baby boy to arrive.
Ever since the Brownstown man left the military in 2013, Veterans Day has taken on a different meaning. It has become a day to celebrate him and all of the other brave men and women who have stepped up to serve.
“It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever stop being proud of,” he said. “Like with anything, you’ve got your good and your bad, and I’ve got great memories, and I’ve got ones I wish I could forget. But at the end of the day, I’m one of the fortunate few that can say I did it. To me, it’s a day of pride. It’s a day for me. It’s a day that I look at and I feel an enormous sense of pride.”
Part of Hedrick’s draw to serving was having veterans on both sides of his family. As far as he knows, he’s the only one who served in the Marine Corps. Others were in the Army or Navy.
“Even as a young kid, it had always been a fascination,” he said of the military. “It just seemed like one thing I could actually excel at. I knew I wasn’t going to college. That wasn’t for me. To me, there was really no greater honor than to be able to say you’ve served your country. That was my thing.”
Hedrick graduated from Brownstown Central High School in 2009, and he and one of his good friends and classmates, Hunter “H.D.” Hogan, both left for boot camp in San Diego, California, on the same day that fall and were in the same platoon.
Hogan injured his knee in boot camp and had to stay in San Diego for surgery. Meanwhile, Hedrick went to Camp Pendleton for Marine Combat Training, followed by Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for Motor Transport School.
“I signed a broad contract that had multiple options of jobs that whatever was needed was where I was going to get thrown,” he said. “I had no intentions of being a truck driver at all. It was something I excelled at, something I was really good at and I still do.”
When he was stationed with a combat logistics regiment in Okinawa, Japan, Hedrick transported a lot of hazardous materials and explosives.
“Basically, if it was something that could be hauled on a truck, I probably hauled it,” he said.
During his two and a half years stationed in Japan, Hedrick went to the mainland twice — once doing evacuation control after an earthquake and tsunami and another time doing predeployment training to go to Afghanistan — and also went to South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, California and Hawaii.
“The great thing, especially being stationed overseas, is there are a lot of different countries that we got an opportunity to train with,” Hedrick said. “You might go somewhere for a month. You might go somewhere for a good while.”
The next time Hedrick and Hogan saw each other was Thanksgiving 2011 in Twentynine Palms, California, when they found out they were deploying to Afghanistan at the same time. Hogan was in the infantry.
That unfortunately also was the last time they saw each other because on June 23, 2012, on what was supposed to be his last mission, Hogan was killed in action in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He was 21.
A couple of weeks before Hogan was killed, they had messaged each other on Facebook and planned to meet up since they were in the same area of operations, but that never happened.
At the time of Hogan’s death, Hedrick was supporting combat operations for Operation Jaws at Camp Leatherneck. After resupplying, he had a couple of hours free and checked his Facebook account and saw multiple messages, several from people asking if he was all right. One was from his mom saying Hogan had been killed.
“That was probably one of the hardest points for me because there was no time to sit and think about it, there was no time to grieve about it,” Hedrick said. “I found out, and then it was just maybe an hour later, I was back in my truck heading back out. It’s one of those things it’s hard to explain or really not something I talk about a whole lot, just as close as me and him were.”
Hedrick left Afghanistan in late August 2012 and stayed in Okinawa until October. After coming home for a few weeks, he checked into a new duty station at Camp Pendleton on Thanksgiving. He remained there until leaving the military.
In all, he served for four years and three months.
“I’ve met guys that served their four years, hated every minute of it, had nothing good to say about it, and then I’ve been with those that absolutely love it. I just happen to be one of those that loved it,” Hedrick said. “Looking back on it, if I could do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat — I mean, absolutely would.”
Waking up every morning and putting on a uniform representing the country gave him a sense of pride.
“We were the ones getting the call. We were the ones going. I loved that,” Hedrick said. “In all honesty, that was probably the most pride I’ve probably ever felt. You got to wake up every day and serve your country, and that was literally one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced.”
After the military, he worked in factories, was a mechanic, trimmed trees and was a union iron worker.
One day, while sitting on top of a parking garage welding pieces in the snow, Hedrick said he was watching truck drivers come in and decided he wanted to get back into that.
He obtained his commercial driver’s license and since 2018 has driven for various companies. He has now been with Rumpke for six months.
No matter what he has done in life since the military, Hedrick said the lessons of work ethic, attention to detail and situational awareness have stuck with him.
“You get in that mindset while you’re in of failure is not an option. You’re going to accomplish what you set out to accomplish, and I’ve used that ever since,” he said. “If I set my mind I’m going to do something, I might not get it done right away, but at some point, it will get done.”
Serving in the military also has given him a different sense of the word freedom, and it’s something he no longer takes for granted.
He thinks of a quote he heard a long time ago: “Freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.”
“That’s the way I look at it. For those that have never had to fight for it, you’ll never really truly know or understand what it means,” he said. “To me, in my opinion, I think it would be something that everybody should strive for.”