THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

South Carolina values on the Afghan front

jwilkinson@thestate.comJune 9, 2013 

  • James Richardson

    Maj. Gen. James M. Richardson, a native of Myrtle Beach and 1982 University of South Carolina graduate, has been appointed to one of the top jobs in the war in Afghanistan. Some highlights from his life:

    •  Myrtle Beach High School graduate

    •  One of the original 13 graduates of USC’s first ROTC class

    •  Graduate of the Rotary Wing Aviator Officer Basic Course at Fort Rucker, Ala., where he met his wife, Brig. Gen. Laura Strickland Richardson

    •  Both Richardson and his wife commanded helicopter battalions in the 101st Airborne Division during the Iraq War.

    •  Most recently served as the Deputy Commanding General of Support at Fort Hood, Texas

    •  Awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit (with three oak leaf clusters), the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star Medal (with three oak leaf clusters).

A Gamecock has been elevated to one of the top jobs in the war in Afghanistan.

James M. Richardson, 52, a Myrtle Beach native and 1982 University of South Carolina grad, was promoted to two-star general on May 28 during a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan. Joseph Dunford Jr., a Marine four-star general who is the overall commander of coalition forces, presided over the ceremony.

Richardson’s wife, Laura — herself a one-star general and deputy chief of staff for communications in Afghanistan — pinned on her husband’s second star.

“The values that I live by today were taught to me at the University of South Carolina,” Richardson said in a telephone interview with The State from Afghanistan. “Focus on the team. Never give up. Never leave a fallen comrade. I live by those values daily.”

Richardson was appointed deputy commander of Joint Operational Corps in Afghanistan and commander of the U.S. National Support Element Command in Afghanistan. His job is to oversee the support, training and supply of all U.S. forces in the war zone and he will have a key role in the drawdown of U.S. troops from the country.

“My No. 1 priority is to take care of these soldiers,” Richardson said, “to make sure they have what they need to carry on the fight.”

‘A HUGE DIFFERENCE’

Richardson was born in Myrtle Beach to James and June Richardson. He attended Myrtle Beach High School, not knowing that he would make his career in the Army.

“It never crossed my mind,” he said.

Richardson graduated from high school in 1978 and went on to Coastal Carolina University. It was there that he decided to go into the Army.

“I wanted to fly helicopters,” he said.

USC was beginning its first ROTC program, but Richardson didn’t qualify because he hadn’t gone to Junior ROTC and needed to take basic training, according to his father, James. James, a former Marine, at the time was an officer in the S.C. Army National Guard and helped his son sign up for the Guard.

“He took his basic training at Fort Jackson,” said the elder Richardson, who would retire from the Guard as a one-star general. “And he finished advanced ROTC in two years.”

It was in ROTC at USC that Richardson said he learned his value system.

“And they’ve made a huge difference in my career,” he said.

‘Very competitive’

After being commissioned, he graduated from the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, Ky., and the Rotary Wing Aviator Officer Basic Course at Fort Rucker, Ala.

It was at Fort Rucker that he met his future wife, Laura Strickland, a Denver native who was taking basic flight training there while Richardson was taking advanced flying classes.

As lieutenant colonels, Laura and Jim both commanded battalions in the elite 101st Airborne Division during the war in Iraq. Laura (the first female battalion commander in the 101st) commanded a battalion of Blackhawk helicopters, while Jim commanded an Apache attack helicopter battalion.

They were the first husband-wife team to command two battalions in the same division.

Their daughter, Lauren, an account executive with AT&T in Washington, told The State that the two made a good team in war and in life.

“They are very competitive with each other,” she said. “But if the other one needs help, they work together.”

While having two Army generals as parents has its advantages — “You get two great role models,” Lauren said — it also has disadvantages. Not only were both parents deployed during the war in Iraq, they are now both in Afghanistan.

“It’s hard,” Lauren said, “but you have family by your side so you’re good to go. It makes you tough.”

Family members interviewed all said they were proud of Richardson for his promotion and sure he would do a good job.

“When he was a baby he used to wear his daddy’s helmet around, but I never thought he’d be a two-star general,” Richardson’s mother, June, said.

They also said they are proud of Laura and her accomplishments in the Army.

“She’s really smart, bright,” June said. “She is just the best and she and Jimmy complement each other.”

As for Richardson, he said that he is optimistic both about his mission and the future of Afghanistan.

“It’s an honor to serve,” he said. “Very humbling.”

Richardson said he remembered during his first deployment in 2001, shortly after 9/11, electricity was scarce in the country, girls weren’t allowed to go to school and the entire society was extremely primitive.

“Now, 13 year later, I fly across the country and it’s a sea of lights,” he said. “Little girls are going to school. There are colleges, medical schools. Every Afghan has a cellphone.

“They have come such a long way,” he added. “And I can leave here knowing that they can defend their country.”

Before ending the interview, Richardson wanted to add one more comment for the folks back in South Carolina.

“Go Cocks,” he said.

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