VETERAN HIGHLIGHTS - PETTY OFFICER CHARLES RIDENS, RETIRED
By Ruby Woods-Robinson, M.S.L.S.
As I begin to write about Charles Ridens (Charlie), talk with him; read his newspaper, “My Little Corner of the Institution”, there is a quotation that comes to my mind that describes Charlie. “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'”. Erma Bombeck Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Ridens were blessed to have two children Charlie and his sister Kay, who lives in Fresno, California.
Charlie has spent a life time seeking new experiences and learning. He joined the Navy in 1960. After basic training, he served as a Machinist Mate aboard the USS Hancock CVA 19 in the 02N2 plants producing liquid oxygen for the aircraft. After five years, he decided being a civilian offered him more so he left the Navy.
During the Vietnam era, it was not easy to find work and in 1965, Charles enlisted in the Army. His basic training was at Ft. Hood, Texas and later he went to the NCO Academy there.
Before being sent to Vietnam, he was sent to the Panama Canal area for the Jungle Warfare Course (JWC). JWC was three weeks in duration and trained light infantry battalion task forces in jungle operations. The first week of training consisted of individual soldier skills and squad collective tasks that would be performed in a jungle environment. These tasks included: jungle plants and living, land navigation, mines, booby-traps, jungle combat techniques, waterborne operations, and squad react to contact live fire lanes. Scout, mortar, and combat engineer (sapper) platoons received additional specialized training during core week. The second week consisted of situational training exercises which included platoon deliberate attacks, raids, ambushes, a company cordon and search, and sapper riverine demolition missions. A battalion field training exercise (FTX) was conducted during the third and final week of the JWC. This FTX was normally a four-day long, free-play exercise that pitted the training battalion against a company-sized opposition force (OPFOR). JOTB observer/controllers provided both the training battalion and the OPFOR Company with continuous feedback through comprehensive after action reviews. Interestingly, in 1982, I, Ruby, also worked at Fort Clayton, Panama and our backyard went into the jungle training area. Some nights we could hear the young people being trained. Charles served two tours in Vietnam and then two years in Fulda, Germany. Well another five years had gone by and Charles was tired of being in the Army and he thought again that civilian life was better, as you may guess- it wasn’t. Charles then enlisted in the Seabees as a steelworker from 1970 to 1981 when he retired from the military.
Charles spent a year in Belize on a little island called Caye Caulker. A few years later, Charles felt a desire to return to his home town of Paris, Texas, enrolling in Paris Jr. College under the GI Bill. He started his own air conditioning business. However, again he felt that other side of the world was greener. He sold his air conditioning business and became an instructor at Paris Jr. College for nine and one half years. He had been stationed at the Seabee Base during his career in Gulfport. So, he bought a houseboat in Jackson County and moved to Mississippi. When he turned the big “sixty” he moved into the Armed Forces Retirement Home, Gulfport. When Katrina hit, he was evacuated to Washington, D. C.
After eight months in D. C., Charles returned to Gulfport. He lived in a FEMA trailer on the Seabee Base for six months. At the time, it was difficult to find apartments but after months of looking he was able to find one. One day while he was walking his dog he met a young woman named Toni who was walking her dog. Toni, a news reporter, worked for Fox 40 in Jackson. She asked Charlie to babysit her dog while she worked, so he went into the dog-sitting business.
While working in Jackson Toni started film classes through the University of Southern Mississippi. Mississippi started giving tax breaks to the filming industry to hire locals in productions. The State started a film competition of short films statewide. Toni asked Charlie to give her a hand on a shoot. He enjoyed what he did and has stuck with it. Toni and Charles won 2nd place in that competition and runner up nationally.
“Happy Log” is being filmed here in the Gulfport area and several of Charlie friends are cast or crew members in this feature film production. He has helped with three short films and presently is working with a pilot TV series plus school projects. He also is a photographer for the AFRH-GP. His experiences have been taught to him by the film crew or he has self-taught himself using manuals or videos. Charlie has returned to school, along with 25 other older students at the University of Southern Mississippi’s, Gulf Park campus. In Mississippi, individuals 62 or older may attend the Universities free. He is taking advanced cinematography, and film history. Charles said, “Going to school, keeps him young.” “It is something I enjoy.”
He has two children, his son David retired last January as a Master Chief; and daughter Holly lives in Gulfport and works at “Salutes”. He was married for 16 happy years when his wife died. Since that time Charles still using his five year turnover time has been married to three other ladies for five years each.
Charles has returned to his youthful upbringing doing work for the Lord, which has made him a happier person. “If you believe in it and you are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it, then you will become it, enjoy it and own it. Have faith, be strong and believe in you!”