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Veteran’s handcrafted gate honors his military comrades

Sat., July 18, 2009

Greg D. Ridgley’s service in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 left him with post-traumatic stress.

Working with raw metal eases the disorder, he said.

“I take the destruction that we’ve seen in Iraq and I take the metal and I manually scroll it by hand into something beautiful and lasting and positive,” Ridgley said.

His work – a new entrance gate at Fort George Wright Cemetery in northwest Spokane – is going to be unveiled in a ceremony at 9 a.m. today. Ridgley will be joined for the ceremony by staff from Fairchild Air Force Base, which maintains the grounds.

“It’s a testament to the sacrifices that have been made, that are being made and will be made in the future,” he said in explaining the work.

Ridgley is turning his skill as a welder into a new business, Redemptive Ironworks Inc., and he said he built the gates as a donation to Spokane and to introduce his business.

The 10-foot-tall gate features vertical scrollwork and the name of the cemetery set inside an overhead framework. The steel was fashioned with a manual scroll bender and welded into place. It replaces an older, smaller gate.

Ridgley, 42, re-enlisted in the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which he viewed as the equivalent of Pearl Harbor. “I wanted to be able to give back before I was too old to serve,” he said.

He deployed as a lieutenant in an engineering platoon in 2004 and 2005 with the 116th Brigade Support Battalion of the Idaho National Guard. On the way to a raid in January 2005, he said, a Bradley fighting vehicle that was carrying troops overturned into a canal, leading to the deaths of five soldiers. Ridgley tried to resuscitate one of the victims.

He was at or near about 30 rocket attacks, he said, and one of his military mentors was killed in Afghanistan.

He returned home bothered by the political discord surrounding the war in Iraq, he said. The lack of support for troops seemed disrespectful to him.

“I ended up thinking nobody cared,” he said.

He has had a hard time sleeping and concentrating. He can be startled by loud noises and finds his emotions on edge, he said.

“I’d hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and start crying,” he said.

Ridgley said he has been undergoing treatment, including trauma therapy, at the Spokane Veterans Administration Medical Center, and is making progress. He’s writing a book. He said he is proud of his son, Greg A. Ridgley, who is currently running for Spokane City Council.

Said Ridgley of his postwar experience: “It took a while to work through that grief.”

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