Nov. 13, 2006

Veterans of all ages gather to celebrate 60 years at NG Legion

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

More than 120 people gathered at the New Germany city hall Monday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of New Germany Legion Post 601.

Among those assembled were veterans who came from different backgrounds and had different experiences.

Some served their country in remote theaters of operation around the world, and some served on bases in the US.

Some of the founding members who were on hand when the post received its charter in 1946, were present Monday.

In additon, two young guests of honor, who recently returned from deployment in the Middle East, were on hand.

What all of these people shared was a willingness to serve their country.

Kari Ann Uecker served 14 months in Kuwait before returning to the US to work in a recruiting station.

She said she is fortunate to be stationed near enough to live with her parents in Mayer.

In addition to her military duty, she drives to Mankato to attend night school.

She said she is proud to be carrying on the tradition, and pointed out her grandfather, Reuben Schumacher, a WWII veteran who was also present at the celebration.

Gerhardt Buckentin has been stationed overseas for nearly six years.

After spending Thanksgiving with his family in Mayer, he will move on to his next assignment as a brig guard in California.

He said it will be nice to be stationed in the US, where he will be able to have some days off.

He contrasted this to the time he spent as an embassy guard in Moscow, where the movement of military personnel was strictly limited, and he was on call 24/7, even when he was off duty.

While Eucker and Buckentin represent the next generation of soldiers, some of the founding members of the New Germany Legion were also honored during the celebration.

Warner Zabel and Melvin Latzig of New Germany, Alex Schumacher of Camden Township, Duane Schumacher of Watertown, and Reuben Vollrath of Howard Lake, were on hand when the New Germany post received its charter in 1946, and they were present for the celebration on Monday.

A soldier’s perspective

The speaker for the program was SSG Ronald Huff, a two-war veteran who trained a team of 35 combat engineers from McLeod County and served with them in Iraq.

Huff helped to implement a re-integration program for soldiers that includes follow-up meetings 30, 60, and 90 days after they return from deployment.

Minnesota is the first state in the nation to have such a program, according to State Department Commander John Cox.

In his speech, Huff described “what it is like for a kid from rural Minnesota to come back from Iraq.”

Huff illustrated his poignant presentation with illustrations from his own experience.

He described what he went through, and how he “hit rock bottom” before beginning recovery.

“I would rather have grabbed the business end of an IED (improvised explosive devices) than that doorknob,” Huff said, describing his first visit to a psychologist’s office.

This first step was not an easy one.

“Soldiers are trained to help themselves and help their buddies. They are not trained to ask for help,” Huff commented.

He described several things that make it difficult for soldiers to adjust to life at home.

The first thing returning soldiers face is alienation, according to Huff.

He said when soldiers come home, they want to talk about their experience, but they soon learn that other people don’t want to talk about it.

It can also be difficult for people who have not shared the experience to understand what the soldier went through.

“There are no words to describe what 143-degree heat feels like,” Huff commented..

The next thing that returning soldiers struggle with is the complexity of daily life.

“Combat is designed to be ridiculously simple,” Huff said. “Studies have shown that soldiers make 400 free-will decisions per day, compared to 15,000 for a normal American.”

Things as simple as deciding what to wear can be a problem for some of these soldiers, according to Huff.

When they are on active duty, they do not need to decide what to wear, or when to get up, what to eat, or what they will do each day. These decisions are all made for them.

The next challenge faced by veterans is learning to replace “the high of war” with something else, Huff said.

He described a 19-year-old man from his unit who served as a turret-gunner.

“When they are in Iraq, these young men need to make decisions about who lives and who dies on a daily basis. When they come home and get a job at Taco John’s, it is not the same level of excitement and responsibility,” Huff said.

He encouraged the members of the Legion to help young soldiers to find positive outlets for their energy when they come home.

The final steps in re-integration are finding an identity, and “making peace with God, ourselves, and others,” according to Huff.

“We were soldiers over there. Who are we here? We need to replace that identity with something else,” he said.

He added that with help and understanding, the young soldiers returning from Iraq will become the leaders of our country in the future.

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