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Two circles of service

Guardsman gives back to community

CSM Brian Rikstad, 66th Aviation Battalion, Washington Army National Guard, uses repurposed wood to make products that he donates to non-profits that support veterans. Courtesy photo

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There are two circles of events which characterize Command Sergeant Major Brian Rikstad's service in the Washington Army National Guard as he nears the end of a 39-year career in uniform.

The arc of his service began in the wake of the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. He watched on the news as helicopters from the 66th Aviation Brigade rescued trapped civilians from the rubble. 

"I knew then I would join the Washington National Guard," Rikstad began his email.

Two years later, he walked to the local National Guard armory in Port Orchard, WA and enlisted.

"Most things in life run full circle - I am currently serving as Command Sergeant Major of the Aviation Brigade that served the people affected on May 18, 1980."

Since enlisting he has worked as a civilian defense contractor with General Dynamics Land Systems and broadened his education. Currently he works on COVID related issues, with the Emergency Management Agency, and to ensure that Honor Guard is ready to serve.

The second circle of Rikstad's service began when he realized after returning home after his deployment with the 81st Brigade Combat Team during Operation Iraqi Freedom that he had some transitional issues.

"I sought help for my drinking problem, depression and PTSD, all of which dragged me down some deep holes," Rikstad explained.

With the help of his wife and children, he began to dig himself out by working with wood, something he had done years before with his father.

"I started building cedar wrapped ice coolers, whiskey racks and wine stands to help fund the efforts of the National Guard Association," he explained.

"It was a way to stay out of bars and off the couch."

He soon partnered with two nonprofit veterans organizations (The Fallen Outdoors and Got Your 6 Fishing) to provide free crafted wood products which were sold to raise funds to provide other veterans with the opportunity to go hunting or fishing.

"It makes my heart warm and keeps me engaged," Rikstad said.

He likes to us repurposed wood to build 48-quart cedar wrapped free standing ice coolers, wooden American flags and coin racks, wall mounted concealed coat racks, and requested items.

"Repurposed wood is everywhere, and people have no idea what a treasure it really is," he explained. 

"I get a couple of calls every month about wood donations, and it keeps me hopping."

He mentioned that his favorite woods to work with are cedar fence boards, any type of barn wood and lightly used construction lumber.

"I found myself building for 16 different nonprofits that supported veterans, first responders, Christian schools, community based nonprofits in my hometown of Port Orchard, St. Jude's pancreatic cancer fund raisers, Mission 22, Northwest USO and others," he listed.

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused a decline in the number of requests, Rikstad applied for a business license in 2020 and started selling his wood work to replace his tools.

"I use 100 percent of my labor and all the proceeds ... to support all our nonprofits," he concluded.

"Bottom line, I cannot say ‘no' to supporting organizations that give back to our communities."

The two circles are complete.

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