Soldier of fortune: Infantry Centerâs Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Kelso FORT BENNING, Ga. (TRADOC News Service, April 29, 2005) â Few can claim they have walked the war-torn veld of Rhodesia, fought side by side with commandos, witnessed the carnage of battle, time and time again, and lived to tell the tale. Among the few is Mike Kelso, the U.S. Army Infantry Center command sergeant major. Some remember him as the Ranger Training Brigade command sergeant major. A few may even recall his days with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in the 1980s and early 1990s. But to almost all, his first experience with combat is but a whisper of a legend. From the time he was born, Kelso always wanted to be a professional soldier. Too young to fight in Vietnam, the 17-year-old Kelso enlisted into the Army in September 1973 and took a slot in the 82nd Airborne Division. Wanting to go to war, he grew frustrated with the routines of a peacetime Army. Then he picked up the very first edition of the magazine Soldier of Fortune. There were two stories covering the conflict in Rhodesia. At the time, the Rhodesian army was fighting a vicious bush war against Marxist insurgents attempting to overthrow the government. At the end of one of the articles, there was an address for those interested in fighting to write for more information. âPeople can call me a mercenary,â he said. âThatâs fine. Iâm OK with that. Iâm proud of that. I did what I had wanted to do since I was a little boy. By professional soldier, I mean that going to war was our business.â After being discharged from the U.S. Army, he wrote off to the address, expressing his intent to join. He received a contract in the mail six weeks later and reported for duty in 1977. He spent more than 15 grueling months battling terrorist insurgents across African plains with the 3 Commando, Rhodesian Light Infantry. He participated in six combat jumps, a task that came second nature to a Rhodesian commando. âI knew a guy, my troop sergeant, who had done 50 combat jumps,â Kelso said. âAnd there wasnât any jump pay for it either. That was just the way we did business.â He wasnât the only American toughing it out in the trenches for the sake of guts and glory. Along the way, the young trooper met other U.S. citizens caught in the firestorm of foreign war. Frank Bataglia, who hailed from Miami, was a Vietnam veteran and served in the Spanish Foreign Legion before finding his way to Rhodesia. Kelso knew both Bataglia and his wife, who joined the Rhodesian air force as a rigger. Bataglia was killed on an operation into Zambia. Kelso said losing friends hardened him for years of soldiering ahead. âIt certainly showed me what war was really like,â he said. âThe happy times, the sad times, the camaraderie that exists among warriors and the sadness at losing your warrior buddies.â He lost warrior buddies like Sgt. Hugh McCall, a New York City native who befriended Kelso shortly after he arrived. McCall was killed while on his last patrol in the bush before he was to return to the United States. While Kelso quickly learned the horrors of combat, he also found the satisfaction victory bears after the guns fall silent and the dust settles. Facing long odds and grim consequences, Kelso took part in a historic attack wherein a meager force of 144 Rhodesian soldiers took on an overwhelming enemy formation of more than 5,000. With the help of heavy air support, the outnumbered Rhodesians left more than 1,200 enemy combatants dead on the battlefield. âIt ingrained in me a confidence that perhaps I didnât have prior to joining the Rhodesian army,â he said. âIâve kept that confidence for 28 years. It was that confidence that gave me the courage to volunteer for the 1st Ranger Battalion when I came home.â That choice was the beginning of a long, illustrious military career which carried Kelso through the ranks above his peers. Now, decades down the line, it isnât the blood or the battles he is quickest to recall. Surprisingly, it is the novelty of his experience in a foreign country. The host family he spent passes and holidays with, the wild game he saw while patrolling the bush, the thatched mud huts natives called home are the pictures he paints in his mind. âJust being there, in Africa, was awesome,â he said. âTo have the opportunity to live a National Geographic experience was unbelievable.â But his adventure in the wilds of another continent came to an end with the closing battles of the war. âWe lost,â he said. âI went home on leave and never went back.â How does a command sergeant major justify going AWOL in the midst of battle? âItâs one thing for a professional soldier to risk his life and lose it in support of his own country, but when the battle is clearly lost and all hope is gone. â¦ We fought the good fight, did what they asked us to do. But when it became obvious the war was lost, well, dying didnât make much sense,â he said. So he came home. Returned to his country and a cause worth dying for. He joined the Army. Again. He volunteered for the Ranger option and began making his way in the world. He has faced many enemies and traveled far to distant lands throughout the years in the name of duty, honor and country. He has walked with Rangers and fought with heroes. But itâs a Rhodesian flag which hangs on his wall, surrounded by yellowed newspaper articles. Articles that breathe life into the legend of a long-ago war and his days as a soldier of fortune.