Greg Ridgley’s story is a message of perseverance, healing, devotion, and a testimony to the blessings of second chances in the United States of America.
Military service was the norm in retired Army Lieutenant Greg Ridgley’s family. His grandfather and great uncle fought at Pearl Harbor during WWII and on the battleship Pennsylvania. Growing up he says “I was enthralled by stories of our wonderful country, and how we defeated Hitler and Japan.” It was only natural for Greg to enlist in the military and re-enlist at age 34, into the Army National Guard after our Pearl Harbor of 9-11. He deployed with Idaho’s 116th Brigade Combat Team, as an engineer platoon leader, for Operation Iraqi Freedom II 2004-05. After his deployment, Greg lost his mentor, First Sergeant Christopher Rafferty, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. That was the last straw. Greg said he lost the will to live and gave serious consideration to ending his life.
Through counseling at the VA and working with a wrought iron hobby in his garage, Greg found purpose and peace and his business was born. Once again, Greg experienced a setback in life. In the recent bad economy he was unable to develop a market to support expensive ironwork in the 2009-10 recessions. The business, his tools and his home were lost, but fighting is nothing new to a soldier, so Greg got back up and kept going, determined to help himself and other wounded warriors.
He founded a nonprofit organization, called Operation Wrought Iron. Greg knew that if making wrought iron sculpture could help him, it could also help other vets. Today, Greg’s goal is to assist American combat veterans transform war trauma into monuments of wrought iron beauty in order to inspire rehabilitation, through the creative arts process while simultaneously improving public war memorials and historical facilities.
Greg says, “Everyone has a positive talent. In addition to transforming war into wrought iron beauty, maybe our cause can inspire combat veterans to do likewise through music, drawing, woodwork, etc., while demonstrating there are millions of people in our country who admire and care about them. These, and staying connected to positive people, are far superior to coping through isolation, rage, drugs and alcohol. Operation Wrought Iron takes the healing process one step further by adding humanity to the architectural landscape and helping vets to manifest their healing process in physical monuments of timeless wrought iron beauty. This message applies to ALL people, for no human heart goes through life unscathed. ”With the pro bono help of Seattle attorney David Cromwell, from the law firm, Perkins Coie, the necessary legal documents have been filed and the organization will achieve tax exempt status sometime this summer.
Operation Wrought Iron’s first project was designing a gate crest for the entrance to Fort George Wright Cemetery in Spokane — even though Greg lacked the proper tools and equipment. Reardan High School in allowed Greg to use the AG shop welding equipment and tables while working with some of the students, teaching them the metal bending process. Greg says, “Expediently engineering our own tools has been labor intensive and added considerable time to the project, but it has been fun to be creative.”
After much hard work the crest was completed and the dedication ceremony will take place on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25th. If you’re in the area, Greg hopes you’ll be able to stop by.
As for Greg’s plans for the future, “When we get a shop and tools, we plan on working with veterans, making a variety of wrought iron home décor items to include coffee tables, wine racks, wall art and other functional pieces in order to auction them at future fundraising events. We may donate some of the items to other charitable causes. We also have a tentative proposal to retrofit the Washington State Veterans Cemetery gate in Medical Lake, WA. We also seek projects from throughout the United States as well!”
Greg, throughout the United States we thank you for your service.