Roger Rucker spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, including a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965. He flew C-123 transports and was severely injured in a crash while dropping flares at night to support infantry fighting below.
Now, Rucker, 70, of Lexington, makes sure that Navy personnel departing from Columbia to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan know they are supported.
The sailors - security officers, supply specialists, mechanics - are trained for ground combat at Fort Jackson's Camp McCrady in Eastover, as part of the Navy's Expeditionary Combat Readiness Command. There, they train in partnership with the Army's reserve training battalion, called Task Force Marshall.
Often the sailors, brought in from across the country, leave for overseas on flights from Columbia Metropolitan Airport at 3 a.m. with no family or friends to see them off.
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Rucker, a retired lieutenant colonel, his wife, Delores, and 50 to 125 other volunteers are on hand to make sure they get a hero's sendoff.
"We're the last people they get to see, before they go into combat," Rucker said. "So we let them know that the country is behind them and that we support them 100 percent."
What does Rucker get out of it?
"A good feeling," he said. "I did a Vietnam tour, and you know how those folks were treated."
- Jeff Wilkinson, staff writer