Many of the young men and women who are serving in the Indiana National Guard have probably met Sgt. Maj. Rick Weber.
For those who are considering the Guard – the ones thinking it over – theres a strong likelihood they will encounter him.
And for the others who are leaning the opposite direction – of saying no way, not gonna go, not interested – then by all means, stay away from this man who oversees National Guard recruiting throughout Indiana.
Because once Sgt. Maj. Weber gets locked and loaded, and hes drawn you into his orbit, and his no-holds-barred enthusiasm kicks into Millennium Falcon hyperspace and hes talking as fast as your ears can listen and his bald head begins to look like the dome of the United States Capitol and the camouflage in his uniform starts motioning you forward like some hypnotic kaleidoscopic and you cant get the patriotic John Philip Sousa marches out of your brain, before you know it you will have signed your name, jumped to your feet shouting Hooo-ahhh! and double-timed out the door to get Mom and Duty and Country tattooed on your left bicep.
And thats not all bad, says Sgt. Maj. Weber.
With an apologetic nod to Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean, Notre Dame footballs Brian Kelly and the dozens of other college coaches whose programs scour the state in search of athletic talent – they could be considered recruiting novices compared with Weber.
In 2005, Weber topped all National Guard recruiters in the country with 68 contracts, all of which were local. A year later, he was again the best in the nation with 86 Fort Wayne-area signees.
Aware that it had a recruiting superstar in its ranks, the Guard promoted Weber, 42, to head the state.
A lot of people think it has to be the athlete, or it has to be the kid that got in trouble in high school and wasnt bound for college, Weber says of the publics misconception of who makes the ideal National Guard recruit.
I dont think theres anything physical. I think its completely a mental profile. Its that person who is moved when they hear the national anthem. Its that person that, when they see a person walking down the street with their Vietnam or Korean War veteran hat, they want to thank them for their service.
I think theres something innate inside of people; that certain people are drawn to service. Theyre drawn to making a difference. And if they dont find it in the military, theyre probably going to find it somewhere else.
I think those are the people that really are driven to serve in the military, Weber says. You give up a lot of your freedom. You give up your ability to wear your hair the way you want. You give up your ability to say what you think always in the public. Youre giving up your freedoms to ensure that everybody else has their freedoms protected and carried on to the next generation.
I think those are the people – I wont say those are the people who are attracted to the military, but I think those are the people who make great soldiers and end up being career soldiers. Its a lot more in their psychology than it is in their biology.
Shortly after he graduated from Elmhurst High School in 1989, Weber was itching to go into the military, but his parents disapproved. So Weber tried IPFW. But the military desire was still strong. As a compromise with his parents, he joined the Indiana National Guard in February 1990.
He married Whitney. They had a daughter, Mallory. He held a civilian job as a tool-and-die maker. And on select weekends, he resumed his military commitment.
During a conversation with another officer, Weber piped up that he could out-recruit the areas best recruiter.
When the Guard took him up on it – to put his money where his stripes were – Weber found his calling.
He visited schools, made friends, spoke to groups. His enthusiasm was contagious, his convictions obvious.
Could he be the successful recruiter he is without his unit, the 293rd, being deployed to Iraq in 2003? No way. That experience, Weber says, is what set his patriotic spark aflame.
I took about a 50 percent pay cut for that year, so financially, we were burdened, Weber says. My wife was pregnant, and I missed the birth of my son. I think the deployment really grounded me into what it means to serve your country and to make that commitment.
Mallory was 6 and Logan was only a few months old when Weber reunited with his family in October 2003.
For me, it was life-changing, Weber says of seeing his family, including his son for the first time.
It let me take a small glimpse of what all the soldiers before me – the World War II Greatest Generation, who I love to read about and love to see their stories – to think of the sacrifices they made, to know that I got just the smallest feeling of what it meant to actually sacrifice for your country and to know what that means.
I was happy to get to know what that feeling was like.
Weber admits he could have been home for Logans birth on July 18, but he declined.
My command offered to send me home for the birth of my child, Weber says. They were going to send me home and let me stay home, and me and my wife had made a commitment at that point – that I was in a leadership position, and I wasnt coming home until my soldiers came home.
Thats when he succumbed to his fate and made the military his career.
Weber didnt just want to tell his story; he wanted to share his passion. He wanted to get in front of young men and young women and expose the heart that raced beneath his camo.
He wanted them to feel what he felt to wear the uniform and to serve.
The expected quota for each recruiter is an average of 1 1/2 per month – or 18 contracts per year.
Weber shattered that two years running, being No. 1 out of nearly 5,800 recruiters nationwide. Under his leadership, Indiana ranks fourth in the nation, with 12,300 guardsmen and women.
Theres a huge propensity to serve, he said of the Indiana recruits. Very patriotic. Great ties to their National Guard. Great heritage, lineage. Good people. Good values. People who understand that your strength lies in your neighbor, not in yourself.