Walla Walla man re-enlists in Army after 12-year hiatus

James Ruzicka said he decided to re-enlist because 'they need soldiers and they need good ones.'

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James Ruzicka, 48, signs the oath of office as retired Rear Admiral Darold Bigger looks on during a ceremony Tuesday at the Walla Walla National Guard Armory.

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James Ruzicka, 48, is sworn back into service with the U.S. Army Tuesday at the National Guard Armory in Walla Walla. After 13 years of civilian life, Ruzicka rejoined the service because they need soldiers and they need good ones. Administering the oath is retired Rear Adm. Darold Bigger

WALLA WALLA -- The phrase "never say never again" certainly applies to James Ruzicka.

Watched by friends and family, the 48-year-old Walla Walla native re-enlisted in the U.S. Army on Tuesday, resuming a military career that was put on hold about 12 years ago.

The ceremony at the Walla Walla National Guard Armory resumes an Army career that started in 1984 when Ruzicka enlisted. Three years of active duty in the infantry was followed by four years with the Washington state National Guard then another six years in the Army Reserve.

Then there were various jobs, then a 10-year civilian career as a correctional officer at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Now with the all-volunteer Army embroiled in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ruzicka said he decided to re-enlist because "they need soldiers and they need good ones."

"It's the feeling of needing to help these guys," he said. "If I can actually get in and take somebody's place ... seriously, my main goal is to take somebody's place."

It's "also a good time to move on." His children are grown with his step-son, Patrick Neal, also in the Army and his daughter, Karen, preparing to enter college.

His wife, Kathleen Neal, is also backing his decision to re-enlist as well as his mother, Eleanor Ruzicka, who was at Tuesday's ceremony.

"It's what he always wanted," she said. "I'm very proud of him."

But despite his past service, returning to uniform wasn't a quick and simple task, Ruzicka said.

"The getting back in was pretty much an adventure," because all his records were on paper or microfiche that had to be found in the archives by hand. "That was the longest part of getting back.

"And then I had to buy a new uniform" Ruzicka said with a laugh.

Since he is re-entering the service as an officer with the rank of captain, that expense had to come out of his own pocket.

"I've got a closet full of uniforms I can't use," he said ruefully.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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