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Sgt. Maj. Mellinger, 58, says his stories of being in the Army during the tumultuous 1970s as the Army struggled with issues of drugs, race and the role of women are so foreign to young troops that they look at him as if he’s a dinosaur when he shares them.

A recruiting poster hanging today on Sgt. Maj. Mellinger’s office door at Fort Belvoir, where he’s the command sergeant major for the Army Material Command, that encourages female troops to try out for female engagement teams that work in war zones with Special Forces troops shows just how much things have changed since Sgt. Maj. Mellinger was drafted.

Until 1978, female troops were in the Women’s Army Corps separate from the regular Army. Sgt. Maj. Mellinger said he recalls when most female troops weren’t allowed to carry weapons and were taken out of the field at night to sleep in a separate barracks away from the men.

“There were some stymied leaders. What do we do with all these females?” he said. “A lot of those things together caused a lot of turmoil, caused a lot of difficulty and problems and a huge leadership challenge because the military was being torn apart like the country was.”

Sgt. Maj. Mellinger understands well the tragic side of soldiering. He knows 40 to 50 people buried at Arlington National Cemetery and goes to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit wounded troops and their families most weekends he’s in town.

It was in a hospital room in 2009 that Jill Stephenson met Sgt. Maj. Mellinger, who was standing near the bedside of her son, Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, 21. Sgt. Maj. Mellinger had heard that Kopp, a fellow Ranger, had been shot in Afghanistan, and he went to see him. Sgt. Maj. Mellinger immediately embraced Ms. Stephenson, she said.

“It was the most compassionate, caring hug around me that I ever have received from a stranger. It was very comforting,” said Ms. Stephenson, 44, of Rosemount, Minn.

Kopp died soon after. Ms. Stephenson has since stayed with Sgt. Maj. Mellinger and his wife, Kim, on multiple occasions while in Washington to attend ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery, where her son is buried.

Several soldiers who served directly under Sgt. Maj. Mellinger in Iraq have reached out to him to talk about their combat-related mental health issues. One was a soldier who rang his doorbell and said he was haunted by the memory of helping to collect the remains of a fallen Marine, and he was bothered that he didn’t know the Marine’s name.

“I told him his name, and we sat and talked for several hours,” Sgt. Maj. Mellinger said.

Sgt. Maj. Mellinger said he has a roster with the names of the 2,614 troops killed, the 19,304 wounded and two missing in action from his time in Iraq. He wears a metal bracelet with those numbers sketched in it in their honor.

Sgt. Maj. Mellinger’s happy with the setup of today’s all-volunteer force, but he does think the contributions of draftees have been forgotten, particularly since there’s such a romantic notion that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II, everyone “ran down to the recruiting station.” In reality, thousands were drafted in that war and many others, he said.

“Draftees are pretty maligned over time,” he said, “but the fact is they are part of every branch of service up to 1973, and when you look at what those military branches accomplished over time, I’ll let the record speak for itself.”