MA alumni serve tours of duty in Iraq

Posted: December 1, 2010

Note: This story was named a National Winner in the Features category of the 2009 American Society of Newspaper Editors, Quill and Scroll International Writing & Photo Contest.

Published December 12, 2008

by Brigid Kelly

Lt. Col. Andrew Dietz wasn’t sure what was going to happen. His team of Marines had spotted a piece of American equipment outside a building located in Fallujah, Iraq, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

“It’s one of those moments where you realize your mortality,” Dietz recalled of the situation. “You realize you’re not invulnerable.”

The team received orders to clear the building, with the assumption that someone was occupying the edifice. Upon reaching the front of the building and following last minute instructions, Dietz realized that he was to be the first man inside. However, his doubt lasted only a moment.

“Being worried wasn’t going to help any,” Dietz rationalized. “Over a span of two or three seconds, I went from being terrified to completely calm and business like. I wasn’t alone.”

Over 140,000 other U.S. servicemen and women remain in Iraq, according to a recent New York Times report – including Minnehaha alums.

For several alumni, their success in the military has been aided by the foundation that was laid in both leadership and faith at Minnehaha Academy. However, the success gained through their experiences did not come without major sacrifices along with occasional rewards. Certain qualities obtained throughout life are essential to the mental and physical completion of a mission.

Major Todd Lewis of the U.S. Army (class of 1980) has two sets of twins.

“When I left (for deployment) my youngest set of twins were four and when I came back they were six,” Lewis explained. “You certainly don’t ever get that time back.”

The time Lewis spent in Iraq was, “mentally challenging” in facing the opportunity cost of his family during his absence.

“Without a solid and real foundation in Jesus and a strong spiritual background, a person can get lost,” Lewis explains from experience. “When you get in tough situations, rely on the guidance from God.”

Lewis reflects on a portion of his time spent in Iraq as “a door that God had opened.”

“Within the first couple weeks I was over (in Iraq) I met a chaplain who became one of my best bud- dies,” Lewis said. “We were able to help build a church body that grew to about 110 people by the time I left a year later. It was a great opportunity and an amazing experience.”

Joseph Berg (class of 2002) is a 1st Lt. in the U.S. Marine Corps. Berg recently returned from a deployment to Fallujah, Iraq where he successfully completed his mission as a platoon commander in the separation process with Iraqi Police of the Jolan District of Fallujah.

“The progress that I saw between the Marines and the IPs [Iraqi Police] from the beginning of my deploy- ment to moving out the last day was nothing but good things,” Berg said. “The changes that I saw were extraordinary. [The IPs] show a true desire to better themselves and learn from us to create a better country.”

As a platoon commander, Berg was in a role which required a strong foundation in leadership.

“The core values that were instated at Minnehaha and the leadership positions that were offered helped me out to lead as a Marine,” he said. “I was able to fall back on the experiences I had while attending Minnehaha.”

Lt. Col. Andrew Dietz (class of 1988) has completed two tours with the Marine Corps in which he was both an operations officer and a commander stationed in Fallujah, Iraq.

“When you know you’ve done something that has caused someone else to lose their life, it doesn’t click right away,” Dietz explains. “You realize it when you’re driving around the next day. You see people on the street and have to wonder, ‘that could be their sister, their mom or their dad.’ It’s difficult to cope with.”

Lt.Col.Dietz says his time in Iraq was an experience that helped him to “put things in perspective.” “Some things aren’t as important as they used to be,” he said. “I now savor the things I used to take for granted and it certainly helps me prioritize what is important and how to approach a situation.”

Every service-member has a unique way of processing the experiences gathered while deployed. Some do not view their experiences as beneficial. A recent study released in April reported that nearly 20 percent — 1 in 5 returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Only half of those suffering sought treatment, the study reported.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that often goes unnoticed, and veterans that experience the symptoms are urged to seek help through aide offered through Veteran’s Affairs (VA). However, many veterans suffering are reluctant to do so.

Dietz has seen his faith become stronger through his military career.

“Many of the experiences in combat aren’t very pleasant,” Dietz said. “I saw some bad things happen and I had some friends that were killed. But I think Minnehaha prepared me well, especially for combat,” Dietz said. “The body armor I’m equipped with by the military will protect me physically, but the spiritual armor of God protected me during many things I’ve seen, done and experienced through my combat tours in Iraq.”

Students at MA experience war at home

Freshman Cassie Boehm is experiencing the effects of having a loved one in the service. Her uncle, John McManus is twenty-two years old and in his second tour of deployment currently stationed in Germany.

“He’s changed,” Boehm concludes. “When we found out he was going to be deployed, I was scared, I wasn’t sure he was going to come back.”

“I have a newfound respect for him,” said Stacey Boehm, mother of Cassie and sister of McManus. “His deployment has kind of brought my family together, we have new respect for each other.”

“The best thing you can do is rely on the loved ones you have,” Stacey Boehm advises.

“Keep moving forward, take the situation seriously, but stay positive,” Cassie Boehm adds.

Holly Larson (class of 2008 has a brother in the Navy who served in the Persian Gulf.

“Ryan was there for a reason,” Larson said. “I was supportive of him throughout his deployment… Minnehaha was supportive. Not everyone supported the war, but you can still support the people who are there.”

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