Twice Petty left the Guard, but he missed it and came back. He was among many Oklahomans who were suddenly out of work when the oil bust hit hard in the 1980s. Soldiering is a young man's game, Petty said, but the Guard offered a steady desk job.
He took a job in the Guard's personnel division at Camp Gruber, near Braggs. It was there that his sons grew up and later joined the Army themselves. The oldest, Eric, joined the active duty Army out of high school and had nearly 10 years in the service by the time the Iraq War started. He volunteered for deployment right as the war began and served as a cavalry scout.
Eric Petty and a group of his fellow soldiers were guarding a weapons cache south of Baghdad on May 3, 2004, when they came under attack from insurgents carrying small arms. He was killed in the battle a day before his 29th birthday.
It was a possibility Ronald Petty and his son talked about.
“I never discouraged him from doing the things he wanted to do, but I advised him to do other things,” Petty said. “I also know he wouldn't have been happy doing anything else.”
Ronald Petty said dealing with his son's death was understandably difficult, in part because Eric left behind a 9-year-old son, Colton.
“The casualties in this war are acceptable from a military standpoint,” Ronald Petty said. “It's nothing like Vietnam, where we were losing thousands of soldiers every year. But when it's your son, it's different.”
Eight years later, Colton is now 17. As Ronald Petty retires and prepares to travel and see family he hasn't visited in decades, he also will pass his experience on to the latest member of the family to volunteer for military service. Colton Petty has joined the Guard and will finish his advanced training after he graduates high school in May.
“We talked at length about what he might face,” Ronald Petty said. “But you have to consider the way my grandson grew up with a father on active duty. Plus, he had to deal with the death of his father at a young age. He's very mature. He knows a great deal more at this age than I did.”
Throughout his career, Chief Petty has always been a positive, proactive and highly professional soldier.”
Brig. Gen. Robbie Asher