On a stormy night, in the middle of a long drive home from Alabama to Georgia, Army Ranger Robert Risdon Jr. and his friend made a fateful stop in a fast-food restaurant — not realizing that what they were about to do would forever alter the way they were perceived.
You might say it all began with a love of football. Toward the end of January 2016, Robert Risdon Jr. and his friend Jason Gibson were in the middle of a mission. They had taken a road trip, driving four long hours from Columbus, Georgia to Mobile, Alabama in order to view the players of the football team they coached.
The team members were practicing ahead of a Senior Bowl, which was to be held that upcoming weekend. Yet even if observing their players had been their original goal, Risdon and Gibson’s journey was about to take an entirely different turn.
For Robert Risdon Jr., love of football meant carrying on a family legacy. His late father had played on the Notre Dame football team, even having the opportunity to serve as a teammate to the legendary Paul Hornung, often regarded as the greatest player in Notre Dame history.
As soon as he was old enough, Robert Jr. was gifted with a helmet and shoulder pads. Now, he was the head coach of the Columbus Lions, along with his buddy Jason Gibson. But it wasn’t his dedication to football that was about to make him an Internet sensation overnight. He was about to be set in precisely the right place at the right time.
After attending the University of Wisconsin on a scholarship from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), Risdon joined the military. In this way, too, he was able to follow in his father’s footsteps, as his dad had spent 2 years in the US Army, serving in the Signal Corps abroad in Japan and Korea.
Risdon rose in rank to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Rangers, and his service brought him down south to Fort Benning, Georgia. As he and his friend left Mobile, they made their way back to Fort Benning. But something on the way left them feeling distracted.
It was a long drive between Mobile and Fort Benning, and the pair of friends started to get hungry. What’s more, a storm was brewing overhead. As they passed by the town of Greenville, Alabama, the pair spotted a local Taco Bell restaurant.
They decided it was best to pull off Highway 65 and stop. That way, they could have a bite to eat, and wait out the storm rather than drive through it. After they ordered and sat down in the restaurant to eat their meal, they were suddenly met by a sight they had never expected to encounter.
A Man In Uniform
Gibson and Risdon had merely intended to briefly refuel before continuing the long haul northeast back to Georgia. But their chance decision to stop off in the Taco Bell in Greenville was about to make their names and actions take cyberspace by storm. Still, they were unassuming enough.
Even though Army Ranger Risdon happened to be out and about in uniform, they still weren’t expecting much attention, if at all — military men are not a rare sight in their area. Despite that, they weren’t exactly sure how to react at first when their table was approached by a heartbreaking sight.
Trying To Fundraise
A pair of brothers came up to Gibson and Risdon’s table while the two friends were eating. They were quite young, only aged 9 and 13. They had a sales pitch for the Army Ranger: they had brought trays of baked goods that they had prepared themselves at home.
Hopefully, they explained, with the income they would make from selling the desserts, they would be able to help support their local church. But unfortunately, no matter how tempting the bake sale offer may have been, there was a reason neither Gibson nor Risdon would be able to help the two boys.
Buying the baked goods wasn’t an option, as neither the Army Ranger nor his friend had any cash on them. However, even as they told the young boys they couldn’t buy any of their surely scrumptious treats, Risdon noticed something was deeply off about the whole situation — and it made him pause and try to look at the bigger picture.
Both boys looked like they had been out in the rain selling the desserts, because they were obviously wet and cold. What’s more, Risdon intuited that they were looking rather hungry themselves. And there was a special reason why Risdon identified with them so deeply.
An Army Ranger’s Truth
Through his rigorous years of training in the military to become an Army Ranger and Lieutenant Colonel, Risdon knew all too well how the boys were feeling. There had been more than enough instances in which he himself had shivered in the cold, been soaked to the bone, or felt pangs of hunger, all in the name of completing the task at hand.
That being said, the boys’ situation was vastly different. He had chosen his path; they had not. And they were far too young to have to experience that. So rather than letting them pass on by, he turned to them with a question.
Acting On A Hunch
These two youngsters in the Greenville Taco Bell clearly weren’t the average kids going around selling baked goods. They had no reason to confide in the two men what was going on in their personal lives, and yet Risdon was fairly certain he could tell what was up.
The kids would have to go home soon, but the Army Ranger wasn’t sure what kind of environment they would be returning to. It was getting late, and it was a school night. Acting on a hunch and based on his observations, Risdon asked the boys a question they likely had not expected: had they had dinner?
Sure enough, when he heard the answer to his query, Risdon’s suspicions were confirmed. The older boy replied that they had not eaten. The irony was apparent: two boys selling food inside a restaurant, but needing some too. It was something the Army Ranger simply couldn’t bear to hear.
As he interacted with the two boys, he couldn’t help but think of his own children, and he kept comparing them. It broke his heart witnessing firsthand children in such a situation. Even though their goal was helping raise funds for their church, he could see they needed help too. He decided he had to take action immediately.
An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse
Risdon pulled out his wallet, and took the boys up to the front counter of the Taco Bell. To their complete surprise, the Army Ranger told the boys they could get whatever they wanted. No matter how much they felt like eating, tonight, their meal was on him. The boys were amazed and absolutely overjoyed.
Naturally, given the opportunity to get whatever their hearts desired, they were eager to have a feast. Each boy ordered 5 tacos for himself. But if their appetite was impressive, the way the boys behaved when they returned to the table was even more surprising.
Given how hungry the boys had been, it would have been totally understandable if they had been too engrossed in eating to be properly respectful. But no matter how they were feeling, or how excited they were to have those copious amounts of food bought for them, the boys never lost their sense of composure.
Even as they wolfed down the tacos faster than Gibson had ever seen someone do before, the boys were unbelievably gracious to the Army Ranger and his friend. They answered everything with ‘yes sir’, or ‘no sir’. Gibson couldn’t help but think that ‘whoever is raising them is doing a great job.’ Still, the boys had one more way they would surprise the pair.
Stroke Of Luck
The boys had initially come into the restaurant to gather funds for their struggling local church, and yet had received the incredibly good fortune of stumbling across just the right Army Ranger to make their night. Still, they were concerned that people wouldn’t believe what had happened to them.
After all, it was pretty incredible to just have a random person buy them 10 tacos! They also didn’t want anybody to think that they had siphoned off funds from the church fundraiser in order to splurge on tacos. So they made sure to take advantage of their last few moments with Gibson and Risdon.
Honest All The Way
Now that they were well-fed, the boys wanted to make sure nobody would think of ill of them or ask questions as to how they had got their hands on all of those tacos. As Gibson and Risdon watched, the two called their grandfather.
Once he had answered, they put their Army Ranger buddy on the phone. Risdon spoke to the boys’ grandfather so he could confirm he’d paid for their meal, and that the boys weren’t lying. With that squared away, the pair prepared to leave. But the little boy, BJ, kept doing something that really touched their hearts.
Someone To Look Up To
The younger of the two brothers, BJ, had taken note of Risdon’s military uniform with a keen eye, and he understood where it was from. Brimming over with excitement, he told the Army Ranger repeatedly how much he admired him, and hoped that he could follow in his footsteps when he grew up.
He may have been just 9 years old, but he knew enough to express that he loved what Risdon did for his country, and was clearly inspired. He made sure to salute Risdon over and over again as an expression of his admiration — but there was just one glaring problem.
Do It Right, Soldier!
Even as he was trying to impress his new Army Ranger friend, BJ kept saluting with the wrong hand! He was saluting with his left hand because his right hand was busy holding a taco. Risdon made sure to correct him, even if the mistake was hilarious and absolutely adorable.
After all, if BJ was to grow up to be a soldier too, he’d have to salute properly. The pair left the boys with one last wish: pay it forward. The boys promised them they would do just that. And as Risdon and Gibson got back in the car and headed for Georgia, something massive was in the works.
Capturing A Special Moment
The moment Jason Gibson had seen what his Army Ranger friend was up to in the Taco Bell in Greenville, he knew he was in the midst of witnessing a special act of kindness, and he knew it would touch their friends’ hearts. So, he whipped out his camera phone and filmed the entire interaction.
In the clip, the pure joy on little BJ’s face is wonderfully apparent. Once he got home, Gibson made sure to upload the heartwarming video to Facebook, and to his own personal YouTube account. But what was about to happen next left both men absolutely and completely gobsmacked.
The Facebook video of the Army Ranger buying two hungry kids dinner quickly went viral and was reposted an unbelievable amount of times. Different news agencies shared it, racking up millions more views. The YouTube video on Jason Gibson’s account, as of November 2019, has received nearly 2.8 million views.
People the world over have been touched by Risdon’s act of kindness. Many viewers felt inspired enough to reach out to him personally, and he has received friend requests, in his own words, from everywhere across the globe from Taiwan to Australia. But Risdon’s initial reaction was not what you might expect.
Rather than being proud his example of civic duty was being spread around and shared, Risdon felt rather embarrassed. He remarked to the Huffington Post that he was “humbled by the praise” and that he “didn’t need it. I am a believer that we live in the best country in the world with the best people and that acts of kindness happen every day.”
Feeling awkward about this level of exposure, the Army Ranger really didn’t think much of what he did, and said it was really the least he could have done. But at the end of the day, he fell back on one core principle.
The Ranger Creed
As he serves in the US Army Rangers, Risdon is beholden to his unit’s code, known as The Ranger Creed. He himself sums up the experience in that Taco Bell in Alabama as being based on the morals expressed in the creed, and nothing more. He has highlighted one particular line, quoting, “Never shall I fail my comrades.”
The viral fame is of minimal importance to him, but keeping true to the oath he took is key. And while he and the boys he bought food for have not been in contact since that stormy night, he looks on them as his comrades, his responsibility.
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