EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island National Guard Command Sergeant Major Richard Winkelman had a number of “Hallmark characteristics,” according to Chief of Staff Gloria Berlanga.
“His humility, his intellect, his tireless work ethic and his ability to mentor,” Berlanga said.
That’s why it’s hard for her to talk about him in the past tense.
“He was always the person to raise his right hand and [say], ‘I will do it. You need somebody to deploy again? I will go,'” she recalled.
Winkelman was on his way to Joint Force Headquarters Wednesday morning when he lost control of his pickup truck and crashed on Route 102. He was rushed to Kent Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
The Westerly resident lived with his wife Rhonda and joined the Rhode Island National Guard in 2003. Winkelman climbed the ranks until his most recent promotion in 2022 to lead the 56th Troop Command. Berlanga said he was in charge of roughly 1,000 soldiers.
Winkelman was punctual, which is why Berlanga said his teammates found it unusual that he wasn’t there on time.
“When his teammates came in and did not see his truck … it was odd,” she said.
Berlanga learned of Winkelman’s passing from a soldier who also serves as a Rhode Island State Police trooper.
She didn’t believe it at first.
“I asked him to spell the name several times, to reconfirm date of birth, age, home of record,” she recalled. “It was just too unreal.”
When reality set in, Berlanga said Major General Christopher Callahan gathered the 56th Troop Command to deliver the tragic news.
Callahan, who worked with Winkelman for decades, described him as a “dear friend and quiet professional who served his country and state with honor.”
Berlanga said Winkelman, affectionately called “Wink,” will be remembered as a quiet, humble leader.
“He was a known entity and had such a tremendous impact,” Berlanga said.
Berlanga said his legacy will live on in the soldiers he left behind.
Gov. Dan McKee directed all state flags be flown at half-staff in memory of Winkelman, and American flag is also prominently displayed above the crash site.
The Rhode Island National Guard said details on services for Winkelman will be announced once those plans are made. In the meantime, resources and support have been made available to his family and fellow soldiers.