WATERLOO, Iowa - When Col. Ron Albrecht walks out of the U.S. Army National Guard Armory building in Waterloo on this Friday, he will also leave the uniform and 36 years of service as his legacy.
"I've had great assignments in the military," said Albrecht on Friday at the armory. "I cannot complain about any of them."
In 1971, Ron "Curly" Albrecht wanted to see the world. Just weeks after graduating from Waverly-Shell Rock High School, Ron took his thick, curly locks and joined the U.S. Navy. By November 1972, he was serving on the U.S.S. Ranger, just miles from the shore of North Vietnam.
"We were about 20 or 40 miles off of Hanoi and we could watch it burn at night during strikes," said Albrecht. "I thought, 'wow, is this really happening to me?' That's really been the course of my whole military career. I'm a kid from Bremer County and seeing these things."
Albrecht, 58, of Cedar Falls, will step away from the National Guard as he is also the last Vietnam Veteran within the ranks. This landmark retirement has drawn moderate attention in the media in recent weeks. Albrecht shrugs when asked about the notoriety.
"I'm just me. Nothing special. Just part of the product."
Yet what a noteworthy life Albrecht has lived. Returning from his tour in Vietnam in 1973, Albrecht would graduate from the University of Northern Iowa and serve in the Naval Reserve until 1978. After teaching art in Denver and playing rugby all over the world", the appeal of the military led him, in 1982, to the same armory that he stepped away from on Friday.
"Japan, Kosovo, Germany, Kuwait, Iraq," Albrecht remembered when asked to name some of the countries he has served in since the National Guard accepted a "Navy man" in 1983. Albrecht's last foreign deployment was in Iraq two years ago.
"This was what my family has known me as, what my three boys have always known me as in the military."
36 years in the military can leave a remarkable legacy. Albrecht points away from the past and towards what he hopes will help sustain the Iowa Army National Guard for the decades to come. Working at the UNI ROTC program in recent years, Albrecht said he is most proud of helping recruit dozens of young people to, eventually, become officers to serve Iowa.
"I think, for all generations in the military, they feel comfortable when there is leadership behind them to carry on the fight, to carry on the honor and the integrity of the organization."
Albrecht will be in close contact with the military as he will work as a civilian contractor in the Cedar Valley. He and his wife, Janice, have three grown children, Christian, 25, Cory, 23 and Collin, 21, a junior on the UNI Panthers football team.