JERICHO, Vt., April 10, 2013 ??? His smile widens as he recalls his fondest memory, one that journeys all the way to the top of the Italian Alps, the official destination of his first flight and first time out of the country.
The opportunity to travel to Italy and work with the Alpini troops was a fantastic experience and set the tone for 28 more years of dedicated service to his country, said Army Staff Sgt. David T. Rondeau, a mountain infantry soldier with the Vermont National Guard???s Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment.
Rondeau, a logger, has spent all of his years of service with one unit. Right from the beginning, Rondeau said, he knew Alpha Company was a perfect match for him, because it was the only mountain infantry unit in the state.
???It???s a special company. It???s an elite unit,??? he said. ???It???s a little hard for me to leave. I don???t want to leave. It???s not just a Guard unit — it???s been my home for 30 years.???
Many of his military colleagues recognize his loyalty. One of those soldiers is Army Command Sgt. Maj. Forest T. Glodgett, command sergeant major for the Vermont National Guard, who met Rondeau in 1986 when he was a squad leader in Alpha Company.
???He is the epitome of a mountain infantry soldier,??? Glodgett said of Rondeau. ???You couldn???t ask for a better soldier, because he???s there when you want him to be and when he needs to be. You wish that all your soldiers had loyalty like that.???
Rondeau???s lengthy service has given him the opportunity to create part of the Vermont National Guard???s history. He was among the first class to go through the Army Mountain Warfare School.
???They were still writing the book at that time,??? he said.
For two years after attending the summer and winter phases, Rondeau worked at the school as an assistant instructor.
Rondeau not only was part of the foundation of the Mountain School, but he also was the first soldier fresh out of basic training to join Alpha Company. He recalled helping to train some of the soldiers who had joined the unit because they were from different backgrounds.
???They weren???t infantry — they didn???t know how to deal with taking apart an M-16,??? Rondeau said. ???I was actually training them as a private.???
After spending so many years with one unit, Rondeau said, he considers it to be part of his family.
???They made me who I am. That???s why I stayed so long,??? he said. ???I???d do it all again. I can???t think of anything else I would have done different.???
Despite the tough aspects of infantry life, Rondeau had nothing but good things to say about his experiences.
???A lot of people will complain of bad stuff,??? he said. ???There are so many good times and adventure that it overshadows the bad times. The only bad thing now is that I have to leave.???
Rondeau???s advice to younger soldiers who may soon be taking over his position was a statement that reflected his experiences as a soldier.
???I would tell them to experience everything they could as far as what the unit has to offer,??? he said, especially opportunities to attend training and schools.
???Don???t just come to drill and sit back,??? he added. ???Get involved. Push for more training, push to go places — that???s the biggest thing.???