By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN With his second tour in Iraq nearing the end, Captain Dan Pitchford is looking forward to coming back to his hometown of Dassel with hopes of making it in time for Red Rooster Days.
“It’s been a awhile since I’ve been to a Red Rooster Days,” said the 2001 Dassel-Cokato High School graduate, son of David and Mechele Pitchford of Dassel.
Following high school, Pitchford attended Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, where he participated in ROTC.
When he graduated in 2005, he joined the Army and was commissioned as second lieutenant.
From there, Pitchford was accepted to the explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) school, which he graduated from in 2006.
“It was a really cool school,” Pitchford said, adding that it was a unique environment since it included all four branches of the military. The school is actually run by the Navy, he said, which started the EOD school in World War II with training from the British, Pitchford explained.
“There were soldiers who just enlisted, all the way up to officers, all in the same class,” he said.
After EOD school, which took almost a year, Pitchford went to Fort Hood, TX and was then deployed to Baghdad from 2007-08.
When he returned to Fort Hood, he was given command of the 75th EOD Company.
As many may recall, Fort Hood is the Army base where, in November 2009, 13 people were fatally shot and several others wounded by Major Nidal Malik Hasan.
He recalled the base shut down and since no one had civilian vehicles, they couldn’t go anywhere.
“We camped out until 9 or 10 p.m. and went back to the base, when we were given the all-clear,” Pitchford said.
He then began training for his second deployment to Iraq, which was last August.
This tour, however, has been quite different than the last one.
The first tour in 2007 was during the surge and was definitely more eventful, Pitchford noted.
“There were a lot of incidences,” he said, explaining there were many more car bombs, roadside bombs, and weapons in general.
Now, for his second tour, he is the commander of the 75th EOD Company working in the Babel province.
“It is a lot more peaceful here,” he said.
This time, he is working closely with the Iraqi bomb squad with EOD, and working with the Iraqi police, army, and civil defense forces within five different provinces.
“Our main mission here is to do what is necessary to advise, train, and assist the Iraqi police and counter explosive teams,” he said.
Basically, he is assisting in getting them prepared so the US troops can leave, while at the same time, diffusing roadside bombs and other hazards for civilians.
“It’s really promising to see,” he commented, noting that the Iraqi team can complete a mission on their own and have developed a system that works for them.
In addition to training military forces, the US military has been assisting in building an Iraqi rule of law by helping them with their court proceedings.
“We have brought Iraq closer in the direction it needs to be, and that is a self-sustaining system,” Pitchford said.
The Iraqi citizens and government has been very responsive, and progress is being made.
“There is a great feeling of national pride. They want to see the country [as it was] back before Saddam,” he said. “They are honestly trying to do the right thing.”
After six years of military life, two of which were in a desert, there is no doubt Pitchford is looking forward to coming back to his home state of Minnesota.
He particularly misses the greenery and seeing the corn, trees and grass.
He also misses the fresh air and clean lakes.
“When everything is brown and hot, it makes you long for those things,” he said.
His career in the Army has been fun, though, and he has met a lot of interesting people, Pitchford said.
He also learned a lot about himself; what he is capable of and what his limits are.
Since much of his job has been working with people, Pitchford has learned how to deal with others.
“Sometimes we have to tell people what they don’t want to hear,” he said, adding that he has learned a lot about resiliency and thinking outside the box.
As far as his next chapter, Pitchford is planning to attend graduate school to study either anthropology or sociology. He also plans to do some international travel.
His hopes are to be home in time for Red Rooster Days, and he is starting to train for the Red Rooster 5k run and family fun bike ride.
“I’m looking forward to coming home. I really love the area,” Pitchford said, adding he also can’t wait to go for a swim in the lake.