September 3, 2007

Fjelstad has no regrets with military service

By Karrah Anderson
Staff Writer

Regardless of your position on the war, it is happening while we speak.

Men and women each day live a life unknown to the civilians of the United States. We hear statistics, we see newscasts, but can never know the individual experiences that people like First Lieutenant Josh Fjelstad have endured.

He was a platoon leader of the 3rd platoon for Alpha Company 2-135 infantry, a part of the 1/34 BTB unit, known to many as the “Red Bulls.”

Fjelstad was deployed in the fall of 2005, and due to President Bush’s “surge plan,” his unit’s deployment was extended, making their unit the longest National Guard deployment since World War II.

“It was an opportunity for us to take our experience to the next level,” Fjelstad said, when explaining the reaction to the surge.

“We’ve spent an additional four months away from our families, and we’ve accomplished more in the last four than we did in the first 10,” Fjelstad said.

A 1999 graduate from Delano, Fjelstad continued his education at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. While in school, he became involved in the ROTC from 2001-2003, where he was commissioned as an infantry officer. He graduated in 2003 with a double major in biology and marketing.

While in Iraq, Fjelstad was in charge of a platoon of 50 people. The platoon was split between two tasks: running convoys and managing a combat outpost.

The soldiers that ran the convoys brought supplies to different communication relay points between their base and Baghdad.

“You name it, they brought it,” Fjelstad said when explaining the convoy missions.

Fjelstad was more intimately involved with the other half of his platoon in managing the combat outpost, due to its demanding nature.

“It was between 15-30 soldiers, and we had to do everything on our own. We cooked, cleaned, and fixed our own equipment,” Fjelstad said.

The outpost was positioned in a remote farming community of about 7,000 Iraqis. Fjelstad’s platoon was responsible for providing protection and security for the highways in the vicinity of this village. The extent to which they took their responsibility is what made their experience personal and unique.

“We worked quite a bit with the Iraqi civilians,” Fjelstad said. “I became very dependent on the interpreter.”

Over time and through extensive communication, Fjelstad’s platoon built trusting relationships with the leaders and people of the village.

“We learned a lot about their culture. We were able to pick up on body language really well,” he said.

A commercial truck stop was the main focus of the energy of the platoon while stationed in the village.

“It offers security to local traffic in the area and provides more than enough jobs for every family there,” Fjelstad explained. “It has a restaurant, a tobacco and tea café, and a truck wash as well; it has the ability to create sustainable jobs with little investment by the coalition forces.”

The truck stop will provide local security against IEDs, hijackers, and kidnappings.

“It happens all the time, roads are at risk for these different things,” Fjelstad said.

Fjelstad’s platoon also established education in the village. The institution of the school will provide for generations of education that previous generations were without.

“We were also able to bring a new school to a village that has been asking for one since our first meeting,” Fjelstad said.

The presence and efforts of the military in the village diminished the violence and crime in the area. Fjelstad hopes this holds true while the next platoon takes over.

Fjelstad returned home to the US July 20, where he reunited with family and friends. His stay did not last long though; he soon had to return to his new home in California. Before deployment Fjelstad landed a job with Johnson & Johnson, at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics in California, where he sells lab equipment.

He and his wife, Mia, lived in an apartment for several months before his deployment; however, when he came home, he was welcomed to their new house.

“Mia bought a house and stayed out here while I was in Iraq. It was interesting to move home to a new house,” Fjelstad said.

War is not easy, but it is an experience that Fjelstad and his platoon seized and left their mark on wherever they traveled. The interaction between the locals allowed both the Iraqis and the US soldiers to be stretched to understand new cultures through establishing security in a lawless area.

“I really have no regrets. This is the unit I grew up with, so to speak,” Fjelstad said. “I wouldn’t be as mature or professional as I am now. The military allowed me to take leaps and bounds and to have good life experiences.”

Fjelstad doesn’t know exactly where he will be with the military down the road, but there is no hurry to make a decision.

“I’ll take those decisions when they come and see what happens. Just going to take it one step at a time,” he explained.

A platoon of 50, with the direction of Fjelstad, has inspired the lives of many they came in contact with. Their hard work puts a face and a heart on the war.

“The Iraqis Josh left behind will live an even better life than they’ve ever had because of the efforts of this little platoon,” Barb Fjelstad, Josh’s mom, stated boldly when talking about her son. “From almost the start, they got involved with the leaders of these villages to repair water and electric lines, build roads and schools, and even start two small businesses they hope will help sustain these little villages long after the soldiers have left.

“Besides the normal military duties of keeping the enemy in check, what they’ve accomplished in their 16 months of Iraqi deployment has been nothing short of amazing.”

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