Once a volunteer, always a volunteer

RANGELY | The word “volunteer” is never so cherished as when it’s applied to those who signed a blank check on their lives in service to our country. Rio Blanco County has many men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation. John “Hoot” Gibson is one of the many local veterans who said, “I’ll volunteer one more time,” to become the veterans affairs officer in Rangely.
Gibson grew up on a ranch in Athena, Ore., a small agricultural and logging community with a population of approximately 900. He attended Eastern Oregon College and was graduated in December 1965. He went into active military duty in 1966.
“In 1965 it was hard to get a job if you hadn’t served,” he said. Gibson began at Fort Knox, Ky., where he was an armor crewman and in officer candidate school. He was a commissioned second lieutenant in the ordinance corps and spent one year in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where he was a tactics instructor. He went to jungle school in Panama and said, “I’m a jungle expert.” From there he went to Vietnam’s “Iron Triangle” and served from November 1967 until November 1968.
“Every bad place had a nickname,” he said.
Honorably discharged in November 1968, Gibson received a bronze star for his service. Upon his return, he worked on ranches in Oregon and California.
He and his wife Geniel, married for more than 30 years now, moved to Rangely in 1979. They have two sons, Bill and Brian Hodges, and one daughter, Danielle (Jerry) Lebleu of Rangely. Gibson and his wife have seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
While in Rangely, Hoot has worked in the oil fields, done construction, worked for the water district, built boots and saddles and worked for the Rio Blanco County landfill. He was the manager of Wray Gulch for three years before retiring in May 2008. These days he spends his time on “honey-do’s” and enjoys metal engraving. He also spends time with his grandkids.
Gibson has been involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Rangely and it was a natural move for him to accept the veterans affairs position when it became available. The VFW in Rangely has been in decline and the concern of losing the chapter has become very real. Gibson hopes to revitalize the chapter primarily by getting the word out and recruiting members.
With only four active members, Gibson believes it is crucial to regroup and invite veterans to get involved. He realizes how difficult it is to share the emotions brought up by previous experiences but also knows the importance of the camaraderie of the VFW. He is positive about the future of the VFW.
“Applications are out,” he said, and although he is new to the position, he is “passionate about getting the program organized in Rangely.”
He is also hoping to start an American Legion group in Rangely for veterans who did not serve in a war but still volunteered for their country. He believes every person who has volunteered has made a huge sacrifice and should have the resources available.
Gibson understands as well as anyone the struggles with getting involved. It took him nearly 20 years before he could talk openly about his time in the military.
“It is natural for veterans to think if they leave it all behind them it will go away, and that isn’t how it works,” he said.
The goal of the VFW and associated organizations is to provide such services as access to Veterans Administration healthcare systems and providing important contact information for necessary needs. The role of the veterans affairs officer is to organize and facilitate veterans programs. Originally RBC only had one officer, but thanks to the county commissioners, a position was made available to accommodate both ends of the county. With the heroic efforts of our veterans, it is imperative to support the local VFW, American Legion and women’s posts to show appreciation for their service. For more information about the VFW, and for applications, please call Gibson at home at 675-2669, or at work at 878-9695, or drop by the Rangely Annex building on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 1-3 p.m.
“The key is getting the word out,” he said. With his example to lead the way, the future looks bright for the Rangely Chapter of the VFW.