This past Thursday, a former co-worker and friend from my previous active-duty military assignment, The Joint Personal Effects Depot (JPED) served God on this earth one last time and it pains me he’s gone. The JPED is ground zero for processing the personal belongings & cherished memories for nearly every American killed-in-action or wounded from the Wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. When JPED was stood up after the 9/11 Pentagon attacks at Fort Myers, Virginia and later relocated to Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland, Rick Garrett was one of the first non-uniforms on the ground to help document this part of 21st century military history. A trained & professional photographer, he captured the memories as the personal belongings arrived off the trucks, unpacked, properly prepared and moved along for final outbound shipment. He would later train other non-uniform and uniform service-members on photographing the inventory process. A perfectionist who shared his love of the camera–and equally his love of golf, but mostly how he wanted to serve our nation & her patriots in her greatest time of need. I once asked Rick, “you could be doing anything else, but you’re here right in the thick of it.” His response: “I love it here. This is one way I can serve those who have served us.”
Upon arrival in March 2007, Rick shared his stories, almost military historian like, if not like a military historian, on how the JPED got stood up from bare bones, literally & figuratively, at APG, the rotation in of Soldiers from Virginia & Puerto Rico–he always amazed me with his impeccable knowledge, from American military history to everything there is to know about the East Coast. His love & affection for our military, its institutions and the people that make it happen was incredible. His love of life was inspirational and his ability to put his point across was something to admire. He had this contagious smile & laugh and always gave his professional insight to improve the operation–I’d interviewed him when authoring the Center for Army Lessons Learned JPED Handbook.
He was the official JPED photographer capturing tens of thousands of memories, from those who we have lost forever to the heart & soul that make the organization work–its Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Army Civilians. It was always a sad moment when a fellow service-member was leaving the operation–most served a short tour, the Air Force even shorter–and, Rick would put these awesome, creative and one-of-a-kind framed memorabilias to the outgoing individual. In earnest, Rick and the First Sergeant (the other mastermind) would collude on this work of art–and on the last day the First Sergeant would present it on behalf of the entire JPED family. We always knew Rick was behind it as he had a way with design, a way with words, and the creative eye. I will forever cherish his gift. He put me in Time Magazine.
It breaks my heart that we bid our farewells. It’s a sad moment to pen this. Wish I wasn’t. Rick, it was truly an honor to serve with you! May you rest in peace brother.. our prayers go out to your Dorothy and your family. Our awesome & shared memories will always live on.
We’ll continue serving on the other side.