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A few times a year, Brig. Gen. Chris Hughes and his wife Marguerite get an itch to visit Red Oak. They hop on a Midwest-bound plane in Georgia, where Hughes is stationed at Fort Stewart, and check into whichever hotel in town has an opening.
The Hughes’ will park their car in the high school lot and walk down 8th St. to Corning St. and then back, passing by the cemetery and all the beautiful homes, making them “feel the magic of the town,” Hughes said. With a restored sense of peace and calmness, he said Red Oak makes everything the couple has been through during their 29 years of marriage and military involvement worth it.
Hughes was promoted to Brigadier General during a ceremony Friday, a rank he never expected to reach, and he said Red Oak deserves part of the credit.
During 7th grade, Hughes’ father moved the family to Red Oak and opened a chiropractic office here after serving 23 years in the Air Force. It was the first time Hughes lived in a city for more than a year.
A self-proclaimed military brat, Hughes said it took a little while to get used to being the new kid in Red Oak, but he learned to love the town and its rich military lineage.
He said most of his teachers at Red Oak were military men and a strong sense of patriotism was felt throughout the community. So, joining the army was a natural instinct.
“I longed for the leadership and confidence I saw around a BBQ pit in my father’s backyard,” Hughes said referencing military friends of his father’s who often got together. “They were strong men who talked about the military while grilling a burger and I thought ‘that’s what men talk about,’ and I got to experience that tenfold.”
During the early part of the Iraq war, Hughes received public notoriety for an event in Najaf. He was walking through the street with his unit buildings thinking their mosque was being disrespected by the Americans. Hughes held his gun up over his head barrel pointed down and told his unit to take a knee.
“The army teaches you how to think, not what to think,” Hughes said in reference to this event. “You don’t do what a book tells you but what your heart tells you.”
Hughes, directed by the army, wrote a book following this event detailing what happened. He referred to the entire experience as “my 15 minutes of fame that will never end.” Hughes was very humble about his celebrity but quickly changed the subject back to Red Oak, saying if anything, what happened helped put Red Oak on the map.
Despite the 32 houses in different cities he and his wife have lived during their 29 years of marriage, Hughes said Red Oak has always been home, and because of this the tragedy of Sgt. James Skalberg’s death in June hit him very personally, both as a member of the military and Red Oak.
“It just rips your heart out,” he said. “There are many ways to earn your citizenship and one is to serve in the military.”
Hughes was able to be in town for the funeral and made himself available to Skalberg’s family for support and help in any way possible.
“There’s so much patriotism and pride in Red Oak,” Hughes said about the overwhelming community support following Skalberg’s death. “People don’t hesitate to help others.”
Hughes and his wife own land in Red Oak and are in the process of building a cabin for when he retires. Aside from the peace and quiet of Montgomery County, Hughes also is looking forward to reuniting with the Red Oak High School class of 1979. He said they get together almost every time he comes into town and it’s like no time has passed.
“I don’t plan to do anything (once retired),” he said. “I’ll do any job for $1 a year and make myself available for anything the community needs.”
“You go to the top of the hill at Evergreen Cemetery and see my parents graves and that’s all the reason I need to be here.”