Rich Babbitt grew up on a farm in Rushford, New York, that had been a land grant to his ancestors for service in the War of 1812. His father had served in the Navy during WWII, and his mother was a teacher. Rich grew up with two brothers and a sister. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, working, sports, and Boy Scouts, earning his Eagle Scout rank. In April 1966, he enlisted in the Army, realizing that the war in Vietnam was expanding and he had no money for college (he planned to take advantage of the G.I. Bill). In June 1966, he entered basic training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. At 18 years old, he was in great shape, and felt that his scouting experience gave him an advantage. After basic, he completed advanced training at Tigerland (Ft. Polk, Louisiana) as honor grad, and was rewarded with an OCS slot. He did well academically, but felt unprepared to lead Soldiers as an 18-year-old, so he left OCS and reported to Airborne School. In July 1967, he deployed to Vietnam, where he was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry, in the 101st Airborne Division. He was in 1st Brigade, the “Nomads of Vietnam,” notable for being air-lifted to hotspots around the country. During his time in Vietnam, he frequently walked point, feeling “most comfortable up front.” He was wounded three times, once on a hot LZ, once while walking slack, and the final time while clearing a bunker complex on the highway from Hue to the A Shau Valley. He returned from Vietnam in July 1968, with the goal of attending Syracuse University. In the meantime, he was the Honor Graduate of the III Corps Recondo School and was promoted to E-6. In April 1969, his Battalion Commander wanted him to reenlist and return to Vietnam, but simultaneously the option of attending West Point became available. He remembers being invited to a breakfast meeting with the Division Commander, who asked if he wanted to go to the Military Academy, and told him, “You are representing every enlisted Soldier. Don’t quit!” He calls West Point the “worst four years of my life.” He did not feel comfortable in the Cadet environment, but he did not want to quit. Additionally, he struggled with PTSD and felt that he drank too much. During this time, the country was in turmoil, with Woodstock happening during his Plebe year. His time at West Point was physically challenging and he suffered from mono and malaria, losing 45 pounds. He did well militarily, though, and was appointed Company Commander of C1 for his entire Firstie year. He commissioned as an infantry officer because it was “the only thing I was comfortable with.” He was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment at Ft. Lewis, Washington, finding that he had instant credibility with his Platoon Sergeant based on his prior service experience. This was the beginning of VOLAR, the All-Volunteer Force, and low-level leaders were having to separate “the wheat from the chaff.” In August 1975, he married his wife. They had been dating since December 4, 1971, but waited until she graduated from the College of St. Elizabeth to get married. He considered his next assignment “one of the best, most unique assignments,” with the 3rd Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, in Washington D.C., where he served with the Presidential Salute Battery and later commanded a company (1975-1978). This was during the nation’s bicentennial, and President Carter’s inauguration and Arlington National Cemetery saw visits from many notable heads of state including the Queen and the Shah. Next, he earned an MBA from Syracuse University before spending a year in Korea (1980-1981) as a G3 Plans Officer at Camp Casey. Returning from Korea, he was assigned to the Combined Arms Combat Development Activity from 1981 to 1984, an organization that tested, evaluated, and procured new equipment like radios and vehicles for the Army. After graduating from the Army War College in 1993, he participated in Joint Task Force Six (JTF Six) at Ft. Bliss, Texas, providing military support to law enforcement along the nation’s southwest border to support drug interdiction. In 1996, he began his final assignment in the Army as the Garrison Commander at Ft. Drum, New York. In 1998, he retired from the Army.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his service in Vietnam as an enlisted Soldier, and his career as an Infantry Officer. He describes a variety of operations he participated in while in Vietnam, and compares fighting the North Vietnamese Army to fighting the Viet Cong. He reflects on his experiences at West Point and discusses several of his assignments in the Army, highlighting his time in the Old Guard. He notes that he has served as an Admissions Field Force representative, adding that three of his children attended West Point: Thomas (USMA 99), Catherine (USMA 01), and Richard (USMA 05). Finally, he reflects on his service and on what West Point means to him, stating that it is “an institution you get closer to the farther you get away from it.”