Col. R.J. Lillibridge is a West Point graduate who majored in aerospace engineering but chose to be a member of the Infantry because “it is hard and physical” and kept the adrenalin flowing.
During his 29-year Army career, Lillibrdge jumped out of planes, led battle charges, participated in humanitarian missions and saw the curvature of the earth, “and I don’t like heights.”
“I got to do all the cool stuff kids do on video games,” said Lillibridge, a Rhode Island native.
In 1985, as a high school senior, R.J. Lillibrdge was holding a four-year ROTC scholarship to Boston College and the promise of a new car from his father when he got the call from West Point.
“I chose West Point — no car and no life,” he laughed.
A member of West Point’s Class of 1989, 2nd Lt. Lillibridge was assigned to the 82nd Airborne commanding a Rifle Company Recon Unit and Aide de Camp to Gen. David Petreus.
“It was the first of four times I worked with [Gen.] Petreus,” he said. “It was awesome.”
Ten months later he was a rifle platoon leader invading Iraq in the “deepest air assault in history along the Euphrates River Valley” during Desert Storm.
Soon after he returned from the Middle East in 1992, Lillibridge married Georgia, the girl he trusted with his bank account while he was deployed her now trusted with his heart. He spent a few quiet years training cadets and taking career advancing courses; a year in Korea, five years at Fort Bragg where he “jumped out of planes,” and a three-month U.N Humanitarian mission to Haiti.
Lillibridge was a major attending the year-long Command and General Staff college in Leavenworth, Kan., studying the operational level of war in 2001 when the quiet was shattered.
“9/11 happened,” he said.
During Christmas break he left the college and requested reassignment to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne, which had already deployed to Afghanistan.
“I was the first one in my class in Afghanistan,” he added.
Over the next seven years he made several trips to Afghanistan and Iraq with the 3rd Brigade.
In February 2003 he was in Kuwait waiting for the invasion of Iraq to begin.
“I spent a year in Iraq,” he sad. “We defeated the Iraqi Army for the second time in my career. We went the length of the country and ended up in Northern Iraq.”
When Lillibridge returned in January 2004 he was made operations officer for the 2/187th infantry, “the same battalion I was with in Desert Shield-Desert Storm.”
When he returned to Fort Campbell late in 2004, Lillibridge was made Chief of Operations for the101st Airborne.
Lt. Col. Lillibridge deployed to Iraq for another year in September 2005 during a high casualty time, but managed to return with everyone who went with him.
“I never had a soldier killed or receive catastrophic injuries as a platoon leader or commander,” Lillibridge said. “In all my career, that is what I’m proudest of.”
He returned to Fort Campbell as Battalion Commander of the 1/187th and trained soldiers for The Surge, an increase in military presence in Bagdad and Al Anbar designed to provide security while Iraq worked to create a democratic government and reconciliation between communities.
Lillibridge left in September 2007 for his fifth tour, a 15-month deployment “when we were winning The Surge.”
After seven years assigned to Ft. Campbell, Lillibridge returned to Rhode Island to teach political science at the Naval War College in Newport
“I taught for a year and then I was a student for a year,” he said. “After four combat tours I got to live in Rhode Island for two years. That’s when our kids became seafood snobs.”
He returned to Ft. Campbell as a full colonel in command of the 3rd Brigade. In September 2012 Col. Lillibridge took 2,700 soldiers to Afghanistan for 10 months, “and brought them all back.”
“It took training, management, leadership, a huge amount of trust, and obviously luck was involved,” Lillibridge said of his six tours in the Middle East.
After 29 years of military service, Col. Lillibridge retired from the Army in 2016, took a job with Enterprise Solutions and moved to Brentwood, “so our kids could go through their high school years at the same school,” he said.