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Voyageur's Best Features of 2003

Threat pf war hits home

Threat of war... HITS HOME
Three local men head to Southwest Asia
by Cynthia Brekke  |  February 11, 2003

The war on terrorism seems like it is far away… until local people are called up to fight it. Recently, three local men were called into the fray, heading for as-yet, undisclosed areas in Southwest Asia, with plenty of love and prayers following them from their families.

Last week, 145 members of Company C, the 142nd Engineer Battalion, and nine members of the Roseville-based, 798th Transportation Detachment, departed from Camp Ripley on Wed., Jan. 29. They took off on the wings of C-130’s, flown by the Minn. Air National Guard, who volunteered to fly the troops to the training destination at Fort Carson, Colo.

While the 798th will be assigned stateside, the 145 individuals of Company C are leaving everything behind to go in harm’s way for their country. The 142nd is a latteral unit, meaning they are the type of unit that is deployed outside U.S. borders when needed. They will be joining the global effort, Operation Enduring Freedom, but their exact destination was not disclosed. After a two-week stint at Fort Carson, for additional training, they will be dispatched to unknown territory in Southwest Asia. It could be a year before they return.

Among those deployed with Company C’s 142nd Engineer Battalion was Clint Headly, son of Ron and June Headly of McGregor. Clint is a 1994 graduate of McGregor High School and is employed as the only licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Northern Orthopedics in Brainerd. Clint is a sergeant in the 142nd, having served for eight years in that unit.

June Headly spoke about the event, but it was difficult for her to fight back the tears welling up, as she shared some of the moments of what was a very hard, emotional day for families. Minnesota Governor, Tim Pawlenty, was on hand for the departure ceremony at Camp Ripley, delivering his remarks to the troops and the over 600 family members assembled. “He said the state was there to support the families and they’ll do whatever they can while the guys are away,” June said. The Minnesota State Flag was presented to the unit, to be taken with them. “We want these flags brought back with all of you, together,” said Gov. Pawlenty. He also touched on the importance of this unit to the Operation. Company C, 142nd EB, specializes in construction and maintenance of buildings, roads and air strips.

Clint has gone to South Korea, Guatamala, Honduras and Panama, building roads and air strips, so this isn’t the first detail he’s been on. It’s the looming threat of war that makes this deployment different, and especially hard for the families. “This one is the unknown,” June added. Normally not a combat unit, the men will be required to carry arms to defend themselves, an unsettling feeling for their loved ones. “I didn’t even realize that until Ron was talking to Travis, on the phone,” June remarked. Travis, the Headly’s other son, lives in North Carolina. He was also in the National Guards, but had just received his final discharge papers in December, having fulfilled his eight-year commitment.

Besides saying farewell to his son, Ron Headly also watched his brother, Richard, board the plane. Richard Headly resides in Cushing, Minn., which is near Motley. He did a tour of duty in Vietnam, and has been in the Guards for about 20 years. “I told him, ‘You know, I gave you a hug and sent you off to war when you went to Vietnam... now this is the second time. This has got to end,’” Ron commented. He also told Clint’s company commander: “My dad was in WWII, my older brother was in Vietnam, I was in Vietnam... you’d think it would end somewhere.” Having experienced a war, and now, watching his son go into a potential war, Ron’s hope is that they know what they are doing. He, like many, aren’t so sure about this operation. The only consolation is that his brother and son are together. “Clinton’s with his uncle, anyway,” he said. “That helps, some.”

Another young man deployed with the Army National Guard, Company C unit, was EO-4 Tim Piispanen. Tim, a 1993 graduate of Aitkin High School, is the son of Daryle and Sharon Piispanen, in the Fleming area. Tim had just completed his first, six years of active duty and was heading into his two years of inactive, when he received word that he was going to be called back. Not only that, but he had just graduated from North Dakota State, having studied to be an architect. “He was hoping to get a job, instead of doing this,” Sharon commented. He was told that, if he re-upped, he’d be guaranteed to go with the unit he trained with and knew, or he could be assigned to a different unit. He re-enlisted for three years, and was deployed with the 142nd. The departure ceremony must have seemed unreal to Sharon, almost like it couldn’t be happening. “It was an awful day,” she mentioned. “I felt like I was watching a movie. It didn’t seem like I was being a part of this.”

Lance Corporal Elijah Wencl wasn’t deployed with Tim or Clint, but is headed in the same general direction, with the same unknowns ahead of him. Elijah is a member of the United States Marine Corp Reserve, stationed with the Military Police Company, 4th Marine Div., USMC out of Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities. A 1998 graduate of M.H.S., Elijah is the son of Theron and Peter Carlstrom, and Barry Wencl and fiance’, Cindy Swedberg. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in Jan. 2000, after attending two years at Itasca Comm. College, training in San Diego, Calif., Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Fort Leonardwood, Missouri.

Elijah was working as a carpenter with Carlstrom Construction, and in the process of building his own house, when he was called up for duty. He was activated on Jan. 29, to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom, and deployed to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on Feb. 5, for additional training. From there, it is as the others — an undisclosed destination in Southwest Asia.

Elijah is a gunner for the M249 (nicknamed ‘The Saw’), rated an expert on the M16, and holds a green belt in Marine Corp marital arts. His training and duties are in urban warfare, convoy and camp security, and handling prisoners of war. He had just learned that he will be the recipient of the Marine Corp Medal, the second highest honor earned in the Corp during peacetime, for an act of valor last Oct. Elijah rescued a woman trapped in her vehicle, which was in a ditch filled with water.

More and more of our young people are being deployed to the cause. Many who have lived through previous wars had hoped that their children would never have to experience such an event. With the focus turning toward war in Iraq, and the ever changing tides in the war on terrorism, we may have to say goodbye to more of our young men and women... well, perhaps not goodbye, but, ‘take care’ and ‘see you soon’.

Footnote: This article was done on just three individuals we knew of, who have been deployed. If any other local men or women have been called up to active service, please inform the Voyageur Press and submit a service photograph to run with the information. Thank you.

This article first appeared in the February 11, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.