Steamboat Springs Hayden resident Marlene Birch never expected to be a military wife, but she became one ten years into her marriage shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks when her husband Ray Birch decided to re-enlist.
“I’ve never been prouder of him,” Marlene Birch said.
For the past 10 years, Ray Birch has juggled his responsibilities as a reservist with those of a husband, father and a cop — he is Routt County’s undersheriff.
On May 1, Birch was promoted to the highest rank an enlisted soldier can receive and is now a chief master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Less than 1 percent of enlisted soldiers receive the rank.
“It’s as high as you can go in the enlisted side,” Marlene Birch said. “He still can’t quite get used to it. It’s huge.”
Ray Birch took the oath of enlistment and his stripes were tacked on in front of about 100 people May 1 at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, where his 310th Security Forces Squadron is based.
“He’s not really one for ceremonies,” Marlene Birch said. “There were generals and colleagues that were there that are retired and wanted to be there.”
Retired Lt. Col. Bob Haughey was commander of Ray Birch’s unit from 2005 to 2008 and attended the promotion ceremony.
“He’s one of the best noncommissioned officers I’ve ever worked with in the Air Force,” Haughey said.
He said he and other commanders insisted on repeatedly promoting Birch because of his leadership. Haughey said he quickly learned that Birch should someday be a chief master sergeant.
“If you go into combat and want to come back in one piece, he is who you want with you,” Haughey said. “It was my honor to be a part of the same unit as him.”
Haughey said that when he was commander, there were two officers and 61 enlisted personnel in the unit and that Birch will serve as a liaison between the enlisted men and the commissioned officers.
During a deployment, Birch said he could be responsible for 1,100 to 2,000 enlisted soldiers.
“I’m humbled by the fact that they selected me,” Birch said.
Birch previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was 44 when he joined the reserves in October 2001. A month later, he was sent on a 14-month deployment to Afghanistan and would later do two tours in Iraq. He returned from his most recent Iraq deployment in February 2009.
“I was really passionate about doing what I could do to help in the global war on terror, and I never expected to be promoted to this level,” Birch said.
Birch said his wife also was recognized during the promotion ceremony because family members oftentimes make huge sacrifices so their spouses can serve.
“She, in my opinion, deserves most of the credit,” Birch said. “She makes that happen.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com