Soldier returns from Baghdad in time for birth

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Staff Sergeant Joshua Ridge, of Lake City, was named Third Infantry Division Noncommissioned Officer of the Year last month in a special ceremony at Camp Victory Army Base in Baghdad.

The NCO title goes to those soldiers who perform above and beyond their call to duty.

Josh and Kristi Ridge with daughter Katie Belle and son Mark Gatlin. (Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)

As prestigious as the NCO award is, Ridge won an even more distinguished title when arriving home he became a father for the second time.

Ridge and his wife Kristi (Sims) spent Memorial Day, May 26, in the hospital following the birth of their son, Mark Gatlin.

"I was just home three hours when we left for the hospital for Gatlin to be born," he said. "It was so important to me to make it here in time."

Their daughter, Katie Belle Ridge, turned one year old on June 9, so more celebration was in store for the young couple.

"We have had quite a round of celebrating," Sgt. Ridge said. "We had just arrived home from the hospital, and then we had a big celebration for Katie. Our yard was filled with games, toys and lots of kids, relatives and friends."

Kristi is the daughter of Barry and Lucy Holden and Josh is the son of Mark and Deanna Ridge, all of Lake City.

Winning the NCO award paid off big for Sgt. Ridge in many ways. Not only did winning the award earn his page in the 3rd Infantry Division history book, but also it brought him home a month early.

"I was scheduled to come home in mid June, but after the win I was allowed to leave," Sgt. Ridge said. "After being home 20 days I will return to Ft. Stewart in Hinesville, Ga."

Ridge will be at Fort Hood, at Uninc Bell County, Texas, July 26 through Aug. 1 competing in the Forces Command NCO of the Year competition.

The Ridges are no strangers to travel and change. They married in 1999 after graduating from Riverside High School. Josh joined the Army in 2004. He was stationed at Fort Sill, Camp Casey in South Korea, Fort Stewart, and has completed two tours of duty in Iraq.

"I spent 15 months in Iraq, first in downtown Baghdad, and then 25 miles south of Baghdad," Sgt. Ridge said. "Being over there is far from being on the farm with my Dad. They think sand blows bad here but they haven't seen how much there is over there."

While Josh was away, Kristi obtained her Bachelors Degree in social work. Their daughter Katie Bell was born while they were stationed at Ft. Stewart last year and was four months old when her dad left for his second tour of duty in Iraq.

"I decided to move back home to Lake City while Josh was gone, as I had a small baby and one on the way," Mrs. Ridge said. "I knew I would need some help. This has proven to be a good choice. I plan to stay her until Josh finished in Texas, as we don't know now where we will be yet."

"I joined the Army because I wanted a chance to see the world and get a good education," Sgt. Ridge said. "We have both enjoyed the travel and the experience and training is very valuable. I am sincerely considering making the Army a career choice. I will only be 43 when eligible to retire and would be able to consider taking on a second career, while enjoying Army benefits."

"I have been accustomed to routines, and I have certainly been out of routine while home," Sgt. Ridge said. "It is wonderful being with Kristi and the children. I am going to miss having them near, when I have to leave. Still I have a job to do and have to return. Knowing the time is short makes every moment just a little more precious."

Ridge is scheduled to return to Iraq in late 2009 or early 2010.

"The support from back home is so important to me," Sgt. Ridge said. "My family, our churches and people of the town have never forgotten me. I get cards and packages in Iraq. It makes me feel so much better knowing people are taking care of my family and not forgetting me while I am gone. Hometown support keeps the morale high when we are so far away. Lake City is a good place to come home to."

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