Think back to when you were just 17 years old. Were you thinking about joining the military? Odds are at that age it was not the first thing on your mind. But Don Raleigh, co-owner of Evolve Systems, had already enlisted by age 17 and spent 8 years on active duty with the Army. We asked him to share his story and his perspective on what the Fourth of July means to him.
“I knew I wanted to be a soldier my whole life”
In 1984 the issues this country faced were ending the Cold War, defeating communism and oppression in Eastern block countries and tearing down the Berlin Wall. Don Raleigh grew up knowing he wanted to be a soldier and enlisted early at age 17. He completed his basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia and was assigned to the presidential support team for President Ronald Reagan. During his assignment with what’s affectionately known as ‘The Old Guard’ 3rd Infantry Regiment, C Company as part of the casket team he performed over 1100 burials at Arlington National Cemetery. He also tested to become a sentinel and was honored to guard the Tomb of the Unknowns and join the Honor Guard Company.
“Standing toe to toe with Communism”
Don’s interest in foreign languages lead him to the Defense Language Institute where he studied Russian. After attending military intelligence school he was assigned to 3rd Infantry Division in Germany and became part of the American liaison forces on the eastern border of East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Don was among the last Cold War soldiers assigned to this border. It was here in 1989 that he found himself standing on the border between freedom and the East German forces “toe to toe with Communism.” Once the Berlin Wall was demolished in December 1989 Don had what he describes as an amazing experience of witnessing true freedom.
“One day they are behind fences, the next day they are free”
“The power of freedom and liberty is difficult to appreciate unless you’ve experienced or witnessed it this way” recalls Don.
Two things stood out as Don reflected on the experience.
“As they came across the border everyone would stop to get out of their cars and thank us and shake hands. Most of them were sobbing and couldn’t believe that they were free to reunite with family who they had not seen in decades. They were truly grateful for their freedom.”
“The second thing that was amazing to see was the ability for people to quickly and effortlessly embrace freedom. They went from true oppression where the government ruled their lives to a celebration of the soul, true liberation. Freedom does come naturally to us as humans, it’s where we belong.”
“Freedom is just another word for… knowing that you have everything to gain”
Having been a soldier and experiencing the impact of oppression Don takes his appreciation of our freedom and country to work every day. As Don states:
I’m delighted to help small business grow, it’s equally as liberating. Seeing someone put their heart & soul into their business and build something successful. I look at each client project as a military mission and ask what’s the goal, how will we get there and what are the logistics. I love sharing their vision and helping them accomplish their mission.
“Nobody prays for peace more than the soldier”
Over the years Don has celebrated the Fourth of July in Washington DC with a president, during a time of war on the border of Germany and quietly at home with family. As Don puts it
“Freedom means the end of fighting, it means we can put down our arms. There is nothing glorious about war and nobody prays for peace more than the soldier.”
We thank Don for his perspective and his years on active duty and with the United States Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol as reservist . We thank all the men and women in our military for their dedication, their sacrifice and mostly for our freedom.