BATON ROUGE, LA (KSLA) - Inspired by his older brother’s decision to serve as an officer in the U.S. Army, John Bel Edwards started his own journey.
“Once I got in, I just really loved it I loved everything about it.”
Instead of ROTC, he was selected to play baseball at West Point.
“I played baseball for two years. I hurt my shoulder and had surgery and it just never was 100% after that, and once I realized that I wasn’t going to start on the baseball team I knew that I needed to study,” Edwards said.
During his years at West Point he completed Airborne school. After graduation he went to the Infantry Officer Basic Course in Columbus, Georgia, then went directly into Ranger school.
“That (Ranger school) was by far the toughest military training that I endured.”
Serving as an Airborne Ranger, his first assignment took him to Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division.
“I still credit that as to the reason why Donna married me, I think she wanted a three-year honeymoon in Hawaii,” Edwards laughed.
You were in Hawaii for three years and then you went to the 82nd, is that right? I did, and so the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina which for my money is probably the best division in the Army," he said with a big smile, “and you’re going to get an argument from other people about that, but that’s okay.”
His time with the 82nd is what he says was the highlight of his career.
"Just the history of the 82nd Airborne Division in the role that it plays currently. We needed to be able to deploy anywhere in the world in about 18 hours and so you’re constantly either on a rotation of training, or you were ready," he said.
“It’s a very rewarding career and it sets you up for success and things in the civilian life as well.”
Would you do it again? “In a minute, in a minute. You know I miss the Army. I still miss the Army very much and it’s one of the reasons I think I’d like to spend time with our National Guard and General Curtis and all of his soldiers and the Air National Guardsmen. I believe I was pretty good at being in the Army and being an officer.”
However, sometimes life has other plans.
“Bittersweet,” Edwards said describing a photo of his final change of command ceremony, “because I loved commanding that company and it was time for me to leave, but I also knew in a few days I was coming home because I was transitioning out of the Army. So I knew that I wasn’t just giving up the company guidon, that was one of the last days I was going to wear the uniform.”
“When Donna and I got to Hawaii and we had our first child, she was born with spina bifida and so we came back and went to Fort Bragg, however those three years we were there, there were a number of surgeries and I was gone for months at a time because of training deployments and just what you do in the Army,” explained Edwards, “It just got to where I knew I was asking too much of her to go through that without me being home. I accelerated my timeline and got out of the Army and went to law school. I had intended to do that, but I thought I would retire first. I wasn’t able to retire but I had eight wonderful years, and I loved every minute of it and I still miss it and I guess every soldier does this, but I still have dreams where I am in the military and I wake up in the morning and I sort of am disappointed to find out that I’m not.”
Now Governor Edwards takes the lessons he learned from a branch he loved and uses them both at home and on the job.
“I remember learning from officers you have to make decisions and they have to be timely decisions and you have to make the best decision you can with limited and sometimes faulty information, but a good decision timely made, is always better than the perfect decision that comes too late, and trying to figure out when you have all the information that you need to make that good decision is really important but that lends itself to elected public office as well.”
Looking back do you have a moment where you think this is it this is why I did it? Do you have a moment that stands out?
“You know there really are so many of them, but they all involved people and the people you serve with, you just come to know and love Great Americans and they come from all over the country, they’re black, they’re white, they’re enlisted, they’re officers. When you do missions together, when you go through hardships together, maybe you’re cold, or you’re hungry or whatever and somebody really steps up and helps you or you have the opportunity to really step up and help others it’s just very rewarding.”