Holland served a tour of duty in Operation Desert Storm
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2018, which features veterans in our area sharing first-hand accounts of their military service.
ELKINS — An Elkins resident and 30-plus year member of the Army National Guard spent a tour of duty in the Middle East.
Richard Holland served as a member of the Army National Guard for 33 years beginning in 1971 — which took him to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm, where he spent four months from January through April of that year.
Holland recalled the process of becoming a member of A Battery, 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery, noting he attended Potomac State College at a time when all freshman males were required to enroll in Army Reserve Officers Training Corps.
“While at Potomac State, I remember watching as plastic capsules, with days of the month recorded on them, (were) being drawn from a large shoe box,” Holland said. “These dates would be the order of the draft call. I remember one of the students whose birthday was Sept. 14, was chosen as number one. I believe he left the lounge to get a drink. The drinking age was 18.”
Holland received a low draft number and school deferment, causing him to believe he was not eligible for the draft at that time; however, President Richard Nixon canceled school deferments and his classification was changed to non-deferred.
He then decided, during a Christmas break from West Virginia University, to speak with Virginia Simons at the local draft board, located in the United States Forest Service building on Sycamore Street in Elkins. Simons told him at that time he would likely be drafted if he did not enlist.
“I told my mother about the conversation with Mrs. Simons and she suggested the local National Guard might be an option,” Holland said. “My mother said she had heard great things about the local National Guard unit and they did not go to war. She was correct on one out of two.”
Holland then met with West Virginia Unit Administrator Sgt. Bernie Bennett, who he described as “one of the best unit administrators in the state of West Virginia.”
He was later sworn in by Captain Clifford Wilmoth and became a member of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery.
After returning to WVU, Holland enrolled in the ROTC program, which he served as a member of for four years.
“I was fortunate to serve with many skilled and dedicated individuals while in the 201st. As a member of A Battery, I served under two outstanding battalion commanders, Peter Zurbuch and Bill Hartman,” he said.
The 201st Field Artillery had units across West Virginia, including Elkins, Hinton, Keyser, Morgantown, Kingwood and Ronceverte, as well as headquarters in Fairmont.
Years later, Holland was an operations officer based out of Fairmont in December 1991 when his battalion was called to mobilize for Operation Desert Storm.
“I was an operations officer serving at battalion headquarters in Fairmont when I received an alert call on Dec. 5, 1991. The battalion was being mobilized for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm,” he said. “The following day, I attended a staff call at Kingwood Army Training Site, where I learned more about the tasks ahead. The war our unit had planned for was not what we were going to experience.”
The 201st main body unit departed for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Dec. 9, 1991 and were under the 196th Regimental Artillery Headquarters from Kentucky and assigned to the 11th Regimental Artillery Marines (RAMA), French Foreign Legion under the control of the XV111 Airborne Corps.
“The first mission that I remember most, out of the dozens of missions, was an artillery raid tactical mission with RAMA. We pulled in at dark and departed at daybreak after firing 227 rounds of elements of an Iraqi Infantry Battalion. A major, captured by the French, said he had no idea we were there until he stepped away from his vehicle to get coffee and his vehicle was ‘blown away,'” he said. “The importance of this raid is that it occurred on Feb. 17, 1992, and the 201st was formed on Feb. 17, 1775. This made the 201st the oldest continuous active service unit in the military, including battle streamers from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, many other wars and campaigns.”
“Many problems of shortage of supplies and repair parts that the unit encountered were overcome due to the can-do attitude of ‘West Virginia boys.’ A truck with Elkins soldiers hit a landmine and had its truck destroyed and rear wheels damaged,” he said. “If the landmine had been more properly placed, the Howitzer Gun Crew number four would have had several severely wounded soldiers. They salvaged parts from an Iraqi Howitzer that had been disabled due to friendly fire.”
He recalled Charlie Battery having three track vehicles that also ran over landmines.
Holland explained the Army National Guard also serves stateside, assisting with a large variety of emergency situations.
“The National Guard is called upon to locate missing persons, fight forest fires, assist during prison riots, floods and more. I remember being called out for state duty many times,” he said. “My bags were always somewhat packed for call out. I had to drop whatever I was doing and report for duty, not knowing whether it would be three to four days or three to four weeks.”
Holland was raised in a military family, as his father was a cadet commander of the Army ROTC as well as several relatives and siblings who also served.
“I was raised in a family that understood the sacrifices that are required when someone serves in the military. I had relatives that served in World War II and Vietnam,” he said. “My mother always had respectful thoughts of my family who fought in the Civil War and more recent conflicts. My mother would often speak of watching my father, who was the cadet commander of the Army ROTC. The cadets would drill on the field below Woman’s Hall at WVU, where she lived.”
Holland’s sister, Luanda, was an Army female sponsor and was selected to participate in the dedication of the USS West Virginia Mast. His brother, Charles, was nominated for the United States Air Force Academy, where he became one of their most distinguished graduates. He was commander in chief of special operations and retired after 35 years of service as a 4-star general.
Holland’s military career included four years in ROTC ,which took him away from home for 48 days, as well as 33 years in the National Guard that required him to be away from home for more than 2,500 days — nearly seven years.
“The real heroes are the family members left behind to hold the family together,” Holland said. “I cannot say enough about the sacrifices the soldiers’ families and employers made for the National Guard. Some National Guard soldiers had to give up their two-week family vacation to go to the annual training.”
Holland added his service taught him a variety of useful skills as well as paying for him to work toward and receive a masters degree.
“The military taught me management skills, life skills and an appreciation for God and country,” he said. “I feel my military service was very rewarding and the sacrifice was worth the honor to serve my country.”
He retired from the Army National Guard on May 31, 2004, as a colonel, but was promoted to brigadier general in the Army National Guard Retired Reserve on April 1, 2010, by then-governor Joe Manchin III.
Holland is married to Elkins native Angie Holland. His oldest son, Matthew, resides in Blacksburg, Virginia, but is also a professor in China. Matthew served on Navy nuclear submarines. He has two daughters, Madison and Mackenzie, who are both students at Elkins High School. His youngest son, Richard Brock Holland, is a student at Elkins Middle School.
Angie Holland’s oldest son, H.C. Marson, is Garrison Commander at United States Military Academy in West Point. She has two daughters, Serena Marson and Ashley Marson. Her youngest son, Derrick Marson, served in the Army.