Steve Tidwell

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Retirement sits well with guardsman

Steve and Shirley Tidwell feed their horses Monday. Steve Tidwell retired from the Arkansas Army National Guard in December.

The Daily Citizen

JUDSONIA - Sergeant Steve Tidwell, 53, is enjoying retirement from a career as a weekend warrior with the National Guard.

“The best thing I've ever done in my life was going to boot camp,” Tidwell said of his 1975 experience at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. “I've used that experience, the willpower you receive there, in my every day life.”

Tidwell received five achievement medals, the Arkansas Distinguished Service medal, three Army Commendation medals and two Meritorious Service Medals during his 30 years with the Arkansas Army National Guard, from which he retired in December.

After six years with a field artillery unit, Tidwell transferred to the Searcy armory as an “88 Mac” truck driver, then finished his career as a mechanic with a Little Rock unit.

Today he works as a welder, a career he began at age 18, for Toolcraft in Bald Knob and also keeps 60 head of cattle on his farm. In his spare time, he said with a wink, he has a music career, with seven compact discs of country and Gospel music. Tidwell often plays at festivals with the Steve Tidwell Band.

“Yeah, we do the cowboy thing,” Tidwell said as he described the three horses he and his wife, Shirley, own. “But we've got a four-wheeler, too.”

The two were married in a cowboy wedding under the towering oak trees of their front yard, not long after Shirley was featured in the Aug. 3, 2003 edition of The Daily Citizen in an article headlined, “A little bit country.” The article was written during Steve's 370-deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as Shirley awaited his return.

His time with the National Guard has been an enjoyable one, Tidwell said.

“I've always liked making people laugh,” Tidwell said. “I'll always have something going on with my buddies, and the higher-ups, too.”

Tidwell's trademark character was shown during practice drills in the scorching Arkansas summers at Fort Chaffee, where he made it a point to make the rounds at night, taking ice to units on the front line in the field and picking up their trash, just to help out.

“I don't have very many enemies that I know of,” Tidwell said. “I get along with everybody.”

That joy of life was tested on Feb. 11, 2003, when he was jerked out off his ranch in the Ozark foothills and taken to Iraq, just three weeks after the war started.

“We got a 17-hour notice and he was gone,” Shirley said.

In Iraq, Tidwell was stationed at seven different camps. While in Kuwait he was stationed at five others.

Surrounded by 5,000 troops in the desert, who were all living in tents, eating Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and building their own latrines, Tidwell had a true wartime experience.

“We drank bottled hot water,” Tidwell said. “The only way I could drink that stuff was to open an MRE and get the instant coffee and pour it in there. It was actually that hot.”

Iraqis set up roadside stands and sold ice, Tidwell said.

As a truck driver, Tidwell was assigned to haul “beans and bullets” on the dangerous “Tampa Road,” where speeds averaged 5 miles per hour because of safety concerns.

“You took that for miles and miles and miles,” Tidwell said. “A lot of ambushes happened on that road because your convoys were so long.”

Lines of trucks sometimes numbered 250.

At Christmas, Tidwell was told he had a seat on a flight home for two weeks, but gave it up to a younger soldier.

“I gave it to a ‘Spec. 4,'” Tidwell said. “You take care of your lower ranks first.”

Weeks after he gave his seat to the young soldier, Tidwell heard the rest of his story.

“This kid that took my place on the plane, it was a big surprise to him,” Tidwell said. “His momma had been really bad sick and they hadn't told him.”

When the soldier arrived home for Christmas and found his mother had been sick, he was relieved to be able to spend time with her.

During the day while in Iraq, Tidwell and his men found shelter from the sun under the flatbed trailers they pulled, then at night they would set their cots on top of the boxes of ammunition loaded on the trailers, trying to escape the vicious sand fleas.

“You learn to improvise,” Tidwell said.


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