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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Recognizing family on Veterans Day...

Posted 11/15/13 (Fri)

Thirty-five years ago I left my hometown of Hazelton beginning a journey that would take me to Europe twice, South America twice as well as the Middle East.

It was Nov. 2, 1978 when I joined the North Dakota National Guard in Wishek. That career came to a close Nov. 2, 2013 at Camp Grafton near Devils Lake.

It’s impossible to remember all the details in those years but a number of significant events have taken place including a retirement ceremony last Saturday that rocked this old first sergeant’s world in a big way. I didn’t think the National Guard had that kind of class but this event was spectacular and it will be remembered for as long as I live.

Yes, this can be a story about Veterans Day, but it has a much bigger meaning, not just for me, but for members of my family, including three grandchildren who were there in the front row with a brigadier general watching everything unfold.

The important thing to remember here, and something that I’ve sometimes forgotten, is that my family has always been there for me. They have always supported my military career, especially in recent years during two activations, in 2003 to Fort Riley, Kan., and again in 2006 to U.S. Central Command.

But the military runs deep in my family and my wife’s family and that is important to mention with Veterans Day upon us. My wife Ilene’s father, Elmer Evanson, was a prisoner of war in Germany the last few months of World War II, so she is acutely aware of what her father went through in 1945.

Two of my uncles, Bert Baker and Elmer Baker, both served in World War II. Elmer came back from the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 with a leg wound and Bert didn’t come back from Alaska when he was hit by a Japanese sniper in 1943. Another uncle, Ervin Baker, served in Korea in 1951 and came home unscathed.

The previous two paragraphs indicate the biggest reason I’ve served for as long as I have. It’s to pay tribute to Ilene’s father and my three uncles who blazed a trail so that I could serve a generation later and always recall some of their sacrifices.

In my career it was the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, chemical defense was the big push in the early 1980s because of the Cold War, in the early ‘90s came Operation Desert Storm, then Operation Iraqi Freedom, then Saddam Hussein was captured and finally, Osama bin Laden was removed from the scenario.

A number of people have asked me when I was in Iraq. I have never been in Iraq, my Middle East tour was in Qatar, where the Army had a forward operating base. However, as a first sergeant I sent Soldiers into Iraq, stressful decisions to have to make indeed.

But it hasn’t all been stress and anxiety. Trips to Iceland in 2001, Germany in 1999, Bolivia in 1997 and Panama in 1993, have left lasting impressions on me that joining the U.S. military was the right decision back in 1978 when I was 19 years old.