Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Retired First Sergeant Jim S. Griffith hadn’t initially seen himself as an army man. Coming from a Marine Corps family, he had grown up under the assumption that he would follow that same path. However, when he and his best friend, Billy Brown, decided to enlist together after high school, Griffith was drawn in by the self-assured, almost uncouth, nature of Army Recruiter SFC Hodges. If Griffith didn’t want to join the army, SFC Hodges told him using colorful verbiage, he could get out.
“I just looked at him, and thought to myself ‘This guy’s whole job is to get me to join the Army, and he just told me to get out. I want to be just like that guy!’” said Griffith.
This interaction was the catalyst for a journey towards a successful 20-year career in which Griffith saw service in South and Central America, Cuba, Germany, Europe and Iraq. He specialized in explosives, referring to himself as a “sapper,” a term derived from the French word “sappe,” meaning “to dig or trench.” In Medieval times, Griffith explained, men would dig trenches towards and beneath castles in order to burn the supports and break through the castle walls. This, or a more advanced version of it, was the job of Griffith and his team in the field.
“We breach walls, doors, minefields - anything that’s in between the enemy and our combat forces. They would send us forward to punch a hole in something so we could get over there,” said Griffith.
The first unit Griffith was assigned to was a ‘light unit’. They had no vehicles, traveling on foot during their missions with what tools they could carry.
“That taught me something about what the Army really was. You had to get tough. You had to go out and do your job and endure certain things,” Griffith recalled.
Over the course of his career, Griffith grew in his familiarity with explosives. He and his team spent so much time seeking out landmines in former Yugoslavia that they could distinguish the bomb types with just a description over the radio.
The invasion of Iraq, however, is where Griffith saw his heaviest action.
“That deployment was the changing piece,” said Griffith, “now you’re not just a guy out there fighting, you’re a leader. I had the unique experience to be with the [3rd Battalion] 502nd Infantry - we spearheaded every fight that we went into, and Air Assaulted in. We weren’t just driving up, getting out and going into a fight – we flew into the fight and landed in it.”
On the first day, he was transported with around 600 other men from Kuwait to a desert in Iraq. They flew five and a half hours, stopping twice to refuel between the sand dunes, and arriving finally in the midst of a battle already waging. In the first 48 hours of combat, he and his seven men breached walls, doors and mines over, Griffith estimates, a total of 500 times.
“And that wasn’t even a bad day,” he remarked, “it was just the first day.”
The worst day, Griffith recalled, was April 5, 2003. They were fighting house-to-house. Some of the doorways were booby-trapped, at one point leaving Griffith and his team stuck inside of a house with no way out. After instructing his team to leave the room, all but one soldier following his command, he stuck his hand inside the trap and removed the bomb from a bag of sugar.
“So I got the booby trap out and we neutralized it and everything was good,” Griffith stated cavalierly.
After Iraq, Griffith spent his time training, advising units and becoming an operational leader. He retired from the Army in 2014 and became a financial advisor in Aledo, Texas. Griffith was awarded the Legion of Merit at a ceremony in Aledo on June 30, 2016. The Legion of Merit is a military award given for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.”