Army Maj. Melinda Rayter is shown in her Hobart, Ind. home Feb. 1, 2013. Rayter recently received a medal from the Indiana Patriot Guard for her years of dedicated service. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:08AM
Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address — “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” — Maj. Melinda Rayter has taken on what she considers the ultimate community service project.
Almost 14 years ago, the Hobart resident and nurse anesthetist joined the Army Reserve.
“We should all give back, even if it’s just by sending cookies to the soldiers,” Rayter said.
During her years in the Army Reserve, Rayter has tended to soldiers and their families in a remote station in the Mojave Desert, helped treat injured soldiers, gone on a mission to an austere location in Botswana, Africa, and next year, will go to the battlefields of Afghanistan.
Rayter, 51, was honored for her service to the country by the Indiana Patriot Guard, which presented her with a medal at a recent Hobart City Council meeting.
A member of the Guard said the Freedom Medal is given to “heroes who defend our country and better our way of life.”
The Guard member pointed to Rayter’s different missions, including the training mission at an abandoned British base in Botswana, where he said she provided medical support for soldiers in “extremely hazardous conditions.”
Rayter, who was assigned to that country as a member of the 909th Forward Surgical Team Wolf Pack, based in Fort Sheridan, Ill., said those hazards were more animal than human.
A surgeon was bit by a hyena and Rayter herself found a puff adder snake on the ground between her feet.
Still, she said the 909th mainly saves lives.
“We take people who are horribly injured and give them a second chance,” she said.
Next year, Rayter will be assigned to Afghanistan for the first time since the war broke out, although she was expecting to go 10 years ago.
“In 2003 I got a call saying we’re leaving. We’re invading Iraq. They gave us gas masks and we did all the training,” Rayter said.
She said she was supposed to go to Kuwait, rotating with other teams, but her team was never rotated in.
She said she doesn’t see herself not going to Afghanistan this time around, even though President Obama has begun withdrawing troops.
“As long as there is one American soldier there, you need to have a lifeline. We’re part of that lifeline. There needs to be a medical unit there the same as we need to feed them,” Rayter said.
Although she travels around the world with her army career, in her civilian life Rayter has stayed close to home. The Hobart High School graduate lives next door to her parents’ house in Hobart. When not away on army business, she works at Methodist Hospitals’ Merrillville and Gary campuses.
And Rayter, whose now deceased brother John Rayter was an A10 pilot in the Air Force, continues to do community service for others in the military while at home.
She is director of American Legion Riders Post 100, through which she does fund-raising for various veterans charities including sending families of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to a special retreat and Cigars for Warriors, in which soldiers have a cigar night as part of a decompression session.
“It’s the first step toward them not getting PTSD,” she said.
Rayter said the most rewarding part of being in the army is being around the other soldiers.
“They’re always striving to do their very best. You can’t help but get caught up in it. It makes you want to be better and better and better,” she said.