By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
When Ray Caldwell retired in 2001 from the Marine Corps, after serving for 24 ½ years, he didn’t really want to leave the Marines behind. Soon after retirement he took the position of director of NMCRS Twentynine Palms, where he had most recently been stationed.
“It appealed to me that the work was on the base and I would still be near Marines,” he explained. “And we wanted to stay in Twentynine Palms so our children could finish school.” Meanwhile, Caldwell himself was finishing school, returning to earn his bachelor’s degree. “I knew getting a degree in psychology would be helpful in my work with the Society. I had taken courses before but didn’t have a real direction.”
Caldwell had received financial assistance from the Society once when he was a staff sergeant relocating back to the States from overseas. “My pay got interrupted because of an administrative glitch and the Society helped me pay my mortgage one month,” he recalled. Knowing what it’s like to be an enlisted Marine enables Caldwell to get to the heart of a problem quickly when Sailors and Marines come to his NMCRS office for assistance.
“A client may say, ‘I can’t pay my rent,’ and I can figure out why. I can look at his Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) and can usually figure out if it’s a military pay problem—a garnishment or if he’d been overpaid previously and now there is no pay due. If needed, I can call the right people and ask the right questions. I retired as a master sergeant so I’ve been on the troop side and the enlisted leadership side so I understand where our clients are and they respect that I was a Marine and that I know what I’m talking about.”
Caldwell acknowledges that he did have a lot to learn about the Society’s mission when he started as a director 15 years ago, but appreciates the extensive support and training he has received from the Society. “The Society really takes care of employees from the very first day,” Caldwell said. “On my first day I got a personal phone call from the then-president of the Society. The director of casework contacted me and the area trainers contacted me. It really felt like a family—like I was used to in the Marine Corps.”
Over the course of his tenure, client activity has increased significantly at NMCRS Twentynine Palms. “When I first started working here in 2001, I was a full-time employee and we had a full-time visiting nurse, an office assistant and two part-time caseworkers on the payroll, along with two volunteers. At that time, we were doing about $300,000 of interest-free loans and grants annually. Today, we have 60 volunteers and our office provides more than a million dollars of interest-free loans and grants every year. Our volunteers are key to our success – they are well trained and empowered to step up to the plate and take charge of delivering the Society’s programs and services to Marines, Sailors, and their families at Twentynine Palms.” “Most of our volunteers are military spouses, although many Marines stationed on the base are single or they’ve left their families at their previous duty station while assigned here with a unit that is training out in the field for three to six months. Marines coming to the year-long electronics school are more likely to relocate their families here.”
Because Marines at Twentynine Palms are typically out in the field training for days and weeks at a time, “they can’t just walk into our office on their own,” Caldwell said. “Their commands are really supportive when their service members have a financial issue. They’re taken out of the field and brought to our office. They know we’ll help resolve the immediate financial crisis and get them back out to the field as soon as possible.”
While Caldwell still works diligently as an NMCRS director, he also understands the value of rest and relaxation. In 2009 he and his wife moved to Joshua Tree, about 15 miles down the road from Twentynine Palms, and bought a small ranch. They started out with horses, and then acquired goats and chickens as well.
“At the end of the day, when I leave my office, I go home, watch the sunset and enjoy my animals and own little slice of paradise,” said Caldwell, who is still serving Marines, Sailors, and their families.
Congratulations, Ray, on 15 years of service to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society!