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Civilians Injured During Black Hawk Incident In Big Horn County

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two people were injured over the weekend during an incident involving a Blackhawk helicopter near Greybull.

The UH-60 Blackhawk is assigned to the Wyoming Army National Guard and the incident occurred Saturday while the National Guard and members of the Big Horn County Search and Rescue conducted search and rescue training, according to a news release issued by the Army National Guard.

After the helicopter experienced a power failure, the hoist line on which two civilians were suspended was immediately cut as a part of a standard safety procedure to minimize loss of life, further injuries and destruction of equipment and property.

The two civilians injured are members of the High Angle Rope Rescue Team with Big Horn County Search and Rescue. The Wyoming National Guard and local agencies frequently partner to train and improve search and rescue skills and increase capabilities.

The injuries were non-life threatening and the individuals were taken to be medically treated.

“Our crews know the risks of the inherently dangerous work they are called to perform,” Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn said in a statement. “We will continue to train with the Wyoming National Guard and other partners to gain much needed proficiencies to serve our citizens in times of crisis.”

The crew and helicopter are assigned to G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation, Wyoming Army National Guard and frequently conduct search and rescue missions and provide firefighting capabilities.

The incident is currently under investigation.

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Huge $100 Million Military Vehicles Museum in Dubois Postpones Grand Opening

in Coronavirus/military/News
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

DUBOIS – A facility expected to be among Wyoming’s largest museums once it opens has postponed its grand opening because of the coronavirus.

Dan Starks, who has built the National Museum of Military Vehicles, said he has been forced to postpone the grand opening scheduled for May because of delays in the delivery of some needed supplies caused by the pandemic.

“I had been preparing myself mentally to reschedule the opening,” Starks said. “Exhibit fabrication and installation shut down a few weeks ago. I don’t know when vendors will start back up or when social distancing will be behind us.”

Starks is also one of the largest stockholders in Abbott Labs, which recently announced it had developed a new method of testing for the COVID-19 virus. 

He said he reached out to the lab seeking access to the test, but was not successful.  

“Every member of Abbott’s leadership team is being inundated. It is a tribute to the ethics of the company that its wonderful capabilities are being made available to the public on a very principled and objective basis,” Starks said.  “It is probably a good thing for me to say that I do not have any special access to the testing resources.”

Starks’ National Museum of Military Vehicles is a massive facility located just south of Dubois in Fremont County.

The $100 million self-funded project has been a dream of Starks, who bought his first Wyoming property in 2011. Construction on the new museum started in May of 2017. It is a 140,000 square foot facility, which is designed to hold 150 military vehicles.

But it is much more than a display of vehicles.

Starks, 65, is not a veteran but has such a high degree of respect for those who served that he sees this project as his life’s work. And what a life it has been.

He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis, serving as CEO before retiring in 2017. The company made $6 billion per year and had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices, specializing on heart catheters and other devices. 

“At one time, we figured our devices were saving a life every three seconds around the world,” he says.

His company was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2017. Their web site shows Starks owns over $600 million in stock in the big international company and serves on its board.

Dan and his wife Cynthia’s life’s dream was to settle in Dubois and launch some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans. And boy, is this ever some project.

Despite the gigantic size of the facility, (you can almost put three football fields inside its walls), Starks now worries that it might be too small.  The couple owns more than 400 of pristine historic vehicles from World War II and other conflicts, presumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world.Starks thinks he might only get 150 of them inside the walls.

The Starks’ daughter Alynne is the executive director of the facility.Their plan for the museum has gone far beyond just a place to display vehicles. “We want to create displays that show the landing at Normandy, the surrenders in Germany and Japan, the Battle of the Bulge, and other great moments in our country’s military history,” Starks says.

Starks sees the facility having three components:

  • First, to honor the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans;
  • Second, preserve the history of what happened during these wars, and
  • Third, provide an educational experience.

The vast array of vehicles goes beyond the killing machines of tanks, artillery, and flamethrowers. It also includes dozens of the machines that made the wars winnable.

Starks likes to discuss how the “Red Ball Express” helped secure the victories. This was the truck-based supply chain that seemed to provide endless amounts of food, ammo, and war machines as Allied troops marched toward victory.

He wants to show how America was able to convert its massive manufacturing expertise to enable the Allies to fight two different wars in different parts of the world and win both in just three and one-half years. The new museum will show how the American ability to mass-produce cars and trucks was converted to produce tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other war machines in record amounts that just wore down the enemy. 

“Germany built beautiful machines, but they did not understand mass production like Americans did,” Starks said. “It was impossible for them to keep up when it came to replacing and resupplying their troops at key moments in World War II. We want to honor everyone who participated in this great victory. This museum will showcase that effort but showing the machines that were built and how they were utilized.”

Dan and Alynne Starks led a handful of people on a tour of the facility Aug. 1, including Lander radio station owner Joe Kenney, Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones and retired Lander business leader Tony McRae.

Kenney said he was impressed that Starks wants no grants or government money to help with the project.  

“He knows what he wants and he is going to get it,” he said. “Amazing.”

Jones said he was overwhelmed by Starks’ passion. 

“His enthusiasm is contagious,” he said. “This is going to be game-changer for tourism in Fremont County and Wyoming.”

McRae said he did not know what to expect. 

“I was just blown away by the scale of this project,” he said. “I can’t wait to see it after it opens.”

Alynne, as executive director, said the project will probably employ about 15 people.  They have not decided on what admission will cost but one thing is sure: “Veterans will get in free!  My dad insists on that,” she said.

Near the middle of the building’s interior is an amazing vault that will hold Starks’ $10 million collection of historic weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I. The collection also includes 270 Winchester rifles.  The facility will have meeting rooms and members of the Wyoming Legislature are convening there in October.It also has the Chance Phelps Theatre, named for the brave Dubois Marine who died April 9, 2004, in Iraq.  The movie “Taking Chance”was about that soldier.

There will also be a large library with one of the world’s largest collections of manuals and other information about military vehicles.

There are over 100 tanks and other impressive war machines parked in row after row in a big field next to the new building. There is even a Russian-built MiG 21 parked in the field that was used in the Viet Nam War against American soldiers. It is flyable. Starks’ other machines are in downtown Dubois, on his ranches and stored in Salt Lake City. Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and a shop to keep them running.

Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. Then, they purchased a 250-head cattle ranch and recently they bought a third ranch, which now has 36 bison grazing on it.

“We love Dubois and we love Wyoming. This is our great adventure,” Starks said.

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F.E. Warren Air Force Base Implementing HPCON Charlie Due to Coronavirus

in Coronavirus/military/News
An upgrade to F.E. Warren's nuclear missile systems could mean billions for SE Wyoming
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

F.E. Warren Air Force Base announced Wednesday that it increased the number of restrictions in place to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Base officials, in a news release, announced the base is now under “Health Protection Condition (HPCON) Charlie.”

“We have to take the necessary actions to ensure we protect our mission,” 90th Missile Wing commander Col. Peter Bonetti said in the. “We are working closely with our regional, state and county officials to help the spread of the coronavirus in our community.”

The requirements of HPCON Charlie must be followed by all base service members, Department of Defense civilians, contractor employees and family members.

These measure include: restricted base access for non-essential visitors, no access for non-Department of Defense ID cardholders and limited access to the base for retirees and veterans. The latter group can access the base on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4:30 p.m. They will be permitted access to the commissary, the base exchange and the medical clinic.

Veterans and retirees picking up prescriptions on the base are asked to use the tent adjacent to the medical clinic. Directional signs will be posted.

Gate access has also been adjusted during this time. Gate One (located on Randall Avenue) is closed. Gate Two on Missile Drive is open for normal 24-hour operations. Gate Five on Central Avenue is currently open to commercial traffic only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Friday.

Historian publishes book about Nimitz visit to Cody

in arts and culture/Community/military
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Cody historian has turned his attention to a visit to the area by a famous World War II naval officer.

Bob Richard’s newest book documents a visit to the Cody area by Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz and several other military leaders in 1946.

The book consists largely of photos taken by Richard’s father Jack Richard, a secretary to U.S. Sen. E.V. Robertson, who represented Wyoming at the time.

Nimitz played a major role in WWII, commanding the Pacific fleet and accepting the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945. 

Robertson invited Nimitz and others to Wyoming after the war and Richard accompanied the group as it traveled from Cheyenne to Jackson, Yellowstone National Park and Cody.

The resulting photographs, Jack Richard’s first color photos, are contained in the book “Fleet Admiral Nimitz and Naval War Heroes’ Historic Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park Visit.”

“They fished, they swam in (Yellowstone Lake), then they boarded an old yellow bus and they came to Cody, stopping at our ranch on Rattlesnake Creek,” Bob Richard said. “At the age of 9, Adm. Nimitz patted me on the back and said ‘I hope someday that you’re an officer like your dad and his brother Bob.’”

Richard has published a number of books focusing on the Cody and Yellowstone areas. His first, “Yellowstone Country,” also features the photography of his father.

Other books by Richard serve as visual guides of the Yellowstone area.

“Everybody continues to buy them and they give them to their guests,” he said. “When they want to get (the guests) out of the house for the day, they give them the book on the North Fork and say ‘Go find all the rock formations.’”

Richard is himself an accomplished photographer. One of his shots, showing two bears near a sign that reads “Leaving Yellowstone National Park,” is a picture traditionally given as a gift to Yellowstone employees as they retire.

Richard said he has sold more than 600 copies of the photograph, which he took decades ago.

Holiday lights go high-tech

in Community/military/News
Christmas Lights
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

No one really can remember when the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, built in 1934, began displaying its impressive holiday lights and decorations. It’s just been something Cheyenne and Laramie County residents, as well as regular tourists, expect every winter. 

Whether you’re driving by on Pershing Boulevard and just happen to catch a glimpse of the lights or you take a stroll through the campus, you can see the VA’s extensive collection of decorations, from Santa guiding his reindeer to a nutcracker saluting incoming and outgoing guests. 

For many years, the decorative display was unique in Cheyenne because it was considered more “high-tech” than displays seen across the rest of the city. In recent years, the community has begun to step up the size and scale of its decorations and lights, but that doesn’t mean that the VA is going to fall behind. 

“The grounds guys actually came to me this year and were pretty insistent that we needed to get some more lights and decorations for the display,” said Sam House, VA public affairs officer. “We’ve built new additions along the campus, but we hadn’t expanded our holiday display and they wanted to change that.” 

Some of the new decorations included inflatable characters that are shown every evening — as long as it’s not too windy — more lights, a new wreath and pop-up sculptures. 

Since the VA is a federal building, the decorations also reflect the Jewish and Muslim faiths, featuring a menorah for Hanukkah and a painted sign with Islam’s crested moon symbol. 

While not decorated, there is also a sacred area on the property for Native Americans that features a traditional medicine wheel that people can visit.

Since the VA expanded its decorations for the entire campus, House noted that there has been an uptick in visitors this winter. 

“We put those there for the community, so we definitely want them to come onto the campus and take a look around,” he said. “They’re also great for the veterans who stay in our nursing homes, because they love to look out their windows and see these gorgeous lights.” 

The groundkeepers begin looking over the lights and decorations in early November, ensuring none of the lights are broken or burned out and checking to see if any decorations need repair. After Thanksgiving, they get to work setting everything up, stringing lights and posting the decorations all over the campus. 

It’s a lot of work for a display that’s seen for a little more than a month, but House said it’s worth it because the community loves it so much. 

“Cheyenne is a very traditional community and these decorations are a part of our tradition,” he said. “There are so many federal entities that kind of peel away and don’t take part in their community. The Cheyenne VA has been an integral part of the city since the 1930s. Some of our patients were mayors of the community. We want to make sure people know it’s OK to come onto the campus and that our VA hospital belongs to the community.”

But the VA isn’t the only place you can see beautiful lights or stunning decorations. Little America is another location with a sprawling campus with a breathtaking display that guests or community members can walk through.

Cheyenne’s City Hall on O’Neil Avenue is covered with around 3,000 LED lights, with more being added every year. The building is decorated on Thanksgiving and the lights will come down in January. 

There are also lights displayed along the streets downtown, which are put up by the city’s traffic division. These will also be up until January. 

The Cheyenne Community Recreation and Events Department also placed more than 70,000 lights on the Cheyenne Depot Plaza this fall. The white lights that hang on the trees downtown will stay up until April 1. 

But if you’re looking for some more home-spun decorations and lights, the Cheyenne Trolley Tours offers the chance to bundle up in one of the city’s classic trolleys, sip hot chocolate and cruise the streets in search of the best Christmas displays at private homes throughout town. 

The buses depart every evening from the west end of Frontier Mall, 1400 Frontier Mall Drive., at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children.

Wreaths honor fallen Wyoming veterans

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Wreaths
Volunteers lay wreaths on the graves of Wyoming veterans during the “Wreaths Across America” ceremony Saturday at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery in Casper. (Photo: Tim Mandese)
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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Volunteers placed wreaths on the graves of 4,200 Wyoming veterans on Saturday as part of a national drive that saw more than 2 million volunteers similarly decorate the graves of service members across the country.

Members of Wreaths Across America were joined by members of the Natrona County Republican Women and Patriot Guard Riders in placing the wreaths on graves during ceremonies at three Natrona County cemeteries.

As part of Wreaths Across American, an estimated 61,000 volunteers laid 400,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery alone. Nationally, more than 2,000,000 participants placed wreaths in 1,640 locations.

In Wyoming, ceremonies were held at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, the only veterans cemetery in Wyoming. Later in the afternoon, ceremonies were held at Highland Park and Memorial Gardens cemeteries. Dignitaries and participants packed the chapel at OTVC to pay their respects, including U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

“Per capita, Wyoming’s volunteering at this event is greater than even those at Arlington,” Enzi said. 

Letters from U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, in which both expressed their gratitude for Wyoming’s fallen veterans, were also read. 

Casper broadcaster Bob Price served as master of ceremonies for the event, instructing those laying a wreath that as the wreath is placed at the foot of the grave, the person laying the wreath should speak the veteran’s name aloud. 

“A person really dies twice,” he said. “Once when they pass away, and once when their name is spoken for the last time.”

Victoria Lockard, the co-chair for Wreaths Across America’s Natrona County chapter, estimated that 1,000 volunteers took part in the wreath laying in Casper.

She added 3,000 wreaths were placed on graves at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, 1,000 were placed at the Highland Park Cemetery and 200 were laid at Memorial Gardens.

Each year the number of wreaths placed grows and the number of volunteers grows, Lockard said.

“Each year it continues to grow, and we are so happy with the turnout of our crowd and their generosity,” she said.  

State legislator takes national stance against ‘endless wars’

in military/News
Bring home the troops
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

If Congress is not willing to declare war in the Middle East, Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, wants America to bring home its troops.

“This is ridiculous,” Lindholm said. “We’ve been over there for more than a decade, and we don’t really know why.”

By relying on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the Middle East instead of an actual war declaration, Lindholm said Congress has denied service members the clarity they need to finish the job — whatever that may be.

“The reality is, when it comes to the Middle East, we don’t actually have authority to be over there from our Congress,” Lindholm said. “We’re operating off an AUMF from 2001 and 2002. The AUMF of 2001 was to go after terrorists in Afghanistan, and in 2002, it was to be ready to go after Iraq. But none of those speak to full-time occupation.”

As the country moves into its 19th year of combat operations in Afghanistan, Lindholm said enough is enough.

“We need to end the endless wars,” he said, echoing sentiments voiced by President Donald Trump. “I’ve got four kids, and none of them have ever known a nation not at war.”

In a column co-written by Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, and published across the country, Lindholm called out U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and other “war hawks” for encouraging Trump to retaliate against Iran after a U.S. drone was shot down earlier this year.

Additionally, Lindholm is leading the Wyoming branch of Bring Our Troops Home, a non-profit organization intent on ending “the Forever Wars and encourage Congress … to support President Trump’s plan to withdraw our troops.”

Life abroad

Raised in Sundance, Lindholm joined the U.S. Navy to see the world and find his place in it.

“I wasn’t really ready to be a grown up, but I knew I needed to get something going in my life,” he explained. “I left two days after I graduated high school.”

It was May 2001. The U.S. was at peace. The world was a different place.

“I remember training in Pensacola, Florida, before 9/11 — taxi cabs would pull right up to base,” Lindholm recalled. “Then after the attacks, things really shut down. It changed the whole mission going from peacetime to wartime.”

A helicopter mechanic who exited the Navy at the rank of Petty Officer Third Class five years later, Lindholm never deployed to the Middle East, but he did see a side of the world he never imagined.

“We were headed to go shake our sword at North Korea in the 2004 timeframe, and we rolled into Hong Kong on Christmas,” he said of his time stationed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. “While we were there, this tsunami struck Indonesia — it was a hell of wreck.”

His ship was to diverted to help with rescue and relief efforts.

“We were first on scene there,” Lindholm said. “I remember we were still 50 miles out from our destination, and I was on the flight deck with the rest of the crew.”

The sailors spotted a bloated, sun-bleached body floating near a palm tree, he remembered.

“We were shocked, but the ship just kept on a-steaming,” Lindholm said. “We were asking why we weren’t stopping for the body, but then as soon we got into position we could see why. There was 200,000 people that died in that tsunami and there were bodies everywhere. More than you could count.”

Using the carrier’s helicopters, the Lincoln’s crew spent months resupplying the Banda Aceh province with fresh water, rice and medical supplies. Shortly after Lindholm’s ship returned to the states, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. 

“We were, at that point, the Navy’s rescue and relief experts,” Lindholm said. “So, my squadron got deployed to respond to (Katrina).”

Whereas the Indonesians welcomed the Navy’s response, the U.S. was a different story.

“The people of Indonesia were just so damn thankful,” Lindholm said. “When we deployed to Katrina, there were people shooting at our aircraft, it was nuts. They definitely weren’t thankful we were there.”

Getting mad, getting political

Once his enlistment was complete, Lindholm moved to Texas to work on U.S. Army helicopters as a civilian contractor, but it wasn’t long before Wyoming called him home.

“It was around 2006-2007, and things were really cooking off in northeast Wyoming,” he said. “So, I figured I’d return home to the ranch and find a job.”

Using the electrical expertise he gained in the military, Lindholm went to work as an electrician. But the more he learned about the way of the world, the more it got under his skin.

“Honestly, I just got mad,” Lindholm explained, chuckling. “When I was in the military, I didn’t really think about what I was doing, I just did what I was told. Then I got out, and I really got to thinking about the things I didn’t like, especially in relation to the family ranch, so I became politically involved to change them.”

Now in his second term as a state legislator, Lindholm serves as the House Majority Whip.

“To be 100 percent honest, I thought I was going to be whipped off into the corner,” he said. “But, when I got in there, I realized these are just normal folks like me.”

He campaigned on the idea people should be allowed to drink raw milk if they choose and sponsored Wyoming’s “food freedom law,” which passed in 2015.  Since then, he’s also helped craft legislation facilitating blockchain businesses and banking.

Now, he’s shifting focus to either bring troops deployed in the Middle East home or pass a law in Wyoming hamstringing Congress’ access to the state’s National Guard units.

“This legislation would prevent our guard from being deployed to a foreign place where war has not been declared,” Lindholm explained. “It’ll appear in the 2020 session, and I’ve got bipartisan support on it.”

Working with the other side of the aisle to legitimize or end the nation’s war efforts has been trickier than he expected.

“Before 2008, I could always lean on the democrats to be anti-war,” Lindholm said. “Now, we’re kind of stuck in this weird spot where Democrats and Republicans don’t really know how to feel about these wars. It’s a weird shift.”

As a state representative, Lindholm doesn’t have the power to force Congress’ hand, but he said he hopes Bring the Troops Home will ignite a national conversation.

“We want Congress to think about it, we want them to talk about it, and we want them to vote on it,” Lindholm said. “We owe it to the next generation, because that’s who’s going to be serving over there next. That’s who is serving over there now.”

Attitudes toward vets have changed, says Air Force official

in military/News
Veterans Day
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CHEYENNE — The attitudes of Americans toward veterans have changed significantly in the last 50 years, according to the commander of the Security Forces Group at F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

Col. Damian Schlussel, speaking during a Veterans Day commemoration in Cheyenne on Monday, said veterans no longer face the disdain that was seen among members of the public during the Vietnam War.

“I think over time people have started to realize just how many sacrifices those in uniform have made to guarantee people’s freedoms,” he said. “And whether you disagree with the politics or whether you disagree with things that we’re doing, they still recognize one thing, that there’s still a man and a woman and a family who are serving to guarantee those freedoms.”

Jerry Bowen, a helicopter pilot who served two tours in Vietnam and one mission in the Gulf War, said the treatment of veterans in the 1960s and 1970s was so bad that he hesitated to tell anyone he was a veteran.

“I got off the airplane in San Francisco and hippies were there spitting on you and stuff like that,” he said. “It was just horrible. I was afraid to stand up and say I was a Vietnam vet because of all the controversy when we came back.”

Also present at the ceremony was Gus Fleischli, a former legislator and Cheyenne business owner who served as a gunner on a B-17 bomber for 32 bombing missions over Germany in World War II.

“Every time you got in an airplane, it was scary,” he said. “When you got in that airplane, you were on your way to Germany. And that was no fun.”

Fleischli, who organized “Honor Flight” trips for Wyoming veterans to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.,  said by the time he was flying missions, he felt the Allies in WWII had the upper hand in the war. However, he said the outlook wasn’t quite so positive in the early days of the war.

“I didn’t think the Allies were going to lose the war, but it was damn close,” he said. “We were on the downside at that point. When I was flying those 32 missions, we were on the positive. We were bigger than they were at that time.”

Military experience translates well into civilian life, say vets

in military/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

On day one of boot camp, every recruit is taught the values of punctuality, personal grooming and working together, but some lessons gleaned from military experience aren’t as immediately obvious.

Ret. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, formerly the Wyoming Military Department’s adjutant general, joined the army in 1982 to experience something new, but stayed in as the service reforged his sense of duty.

“I thought it would be fun,” Reiner said. “The local (Army National Guard) unit was a combat engineer unit, and they would do cool things with explosives.”

He didn’t intend to become a career soldier, but the military became an integral part of his life.

“Initially, you stay because it’s cool, and you have a purpose,” he said. “But, in my mind, the purpose is what grows on you over the years. In the end, you stay because that becomes your calling in life.”

In March, Reiner hung up his uniform and accepted a new leadership role as director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. The helmets changed to hardhats and the uniforms switched from green suits to orange vests, but he said most of his experience translated easily. 

“My job as the adjutant general was very helpful in transitioning to WYDOT,” Reiner explained. “I oversee roughly the same number of people. But whereas in the guard, there were lots of part-time positions, at WYDOT, there are more full-time positions.”

Both entities break down into divisions or districts, each with their own needs and specialties. 

Whether soldier or civilian, he said employees have the same needs.

“Personnel issues don’t change,” Reiner said. “You still have to ensure your men and women get paid, have good health care and a place to live.”

Reiner still rises early to for physical training, but he has plans to grow out his beard eventually and settle into civilian life.

“The military was a phenomenal job,” he said. “It was an opportunity to serve the state and nation and be part of the backbone of this nation. I feel like I have the opportunity to continue doing that here at WYDOT, and for that, I am thankful.”

Managing relationships

In Iraq, David Sheppard, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant, learned to balance the needs of a village with the demands of a nation at war.

“Our job was to remove the temporary bridges that were installed (on a primary traffic route) and build permanent roundabouts and culverts,” Sheppard explained. “Part of that mission was not only construction, but there was a small village right off the road we needed to maintain a positive relationship with.”

Many Iraqi citizens viewed the coalition forces as foreign meddlers with no understanding of local politics and customs. Relationships between the local populace and soldiers were often tense. 

“In the military, you’re forced into a group, a unit, regardless of race, religion or economic factors — it’s a kind of melting pot — and expected to work together as a team,” Sheppard explained. “You become very effective at making it a productive situation despite your differences.”

After working with the Iraqi town’s leadership to ensure their needs were also represented in the project, Sheppard’s unit finished the roundabout and moved down the road without incident. 

About a month later, a coalition forces patrol rolling through the town discovered and seized about 160 tons of explosive materials intended for use as improvised explosive devices that could have been used against Sheppard and his unit.

“I always circle back to how effective it was to take care of people and manage those relationships — it saved my life,” Sheppard said. “I try to translate that experience to my own everyday life in just being a productive human.”

Sheppard joined the guard in 1999 at 18 and served for about 12 years. Nowadays, he manages 911 Roofing Solutions Inc. in Cheyenne and uses the leadership skills he learned as a soldier to guide his management style.

“In the civilian world, you may encounter a handful of leadership styles over the course of a career,” Sheppard said. “But in the military, you’re exposed to so many different leaders at so many levels, that it really gives you a good perspective. It gives individuals the opportunity to take the good and throw away the bad in forming their own leadership style.”

Arena of beliefs

Christy and Andrew Stigen met while stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. 

Not long after they started dating, they encountered their first major hurdle as a couple — dual deployments to separate areas of operation. 

“I think it was a lot easier for us to transition back than it was for others,” said Andrew Stigen, who exited the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant in 2011. “Both of us came back with the same experience. Other couples, where one stays behind and the other deploys, can have differing expectations when they are reunited, but we knew what we needed from each other.”

Serving together was not only the foundation of their marriage, but it allowed them to cultivate their world view as a couple.

While Andrew Stigen grew up in Casper, Christy Stigen was raised in a small Texas town. 

“Being in the military exposed me to a lot of cultures,” said Christy Stigen, who left the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant in 2012. “I’m more open to new experiences now.”

Andrew Stigen said serving alongside people from every walk of life helped him understand viewpoints he might have disregarded otherwise.

“Everybody has a different mindset growing up in the world,” he explained. “Until people are thrown into an arena of beliefs, they really don’t know where they stand.” 

After Andrew Stigen finished his enlistment, Christy Stigen was stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the couple moved to Cheyenne, where they decided to stay. After the military, both decided to use their experiences to help veterans. Andrew Stigen manages contracts for Veterans Affairs, and Christy Stigen processes claims for the Veterans Benefits Administration, a division of the VA.

They have a 3-year-old daughter and a son on the way.

“Joining the military was the best thing I ever did,” Andrew Stigen said. “I’m not going to encourage or discourage my kids from serving, but if they come to that decision on their own, I’m certainly going to paint in the best light.”

No matter the era or branch of service, Reiner said one thing binds all veterans together and drives them long after their time in the military is done.

“At some point, every veteran raised their right hand and swore to protect the Constitution,” he said. “That has no expiration date.”

Wyoming veterans weigh in on celebrating Veterans Day

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Gravesite flowers on Memorial Day, barbecues on Labor Day, social media outrage on Columbus Day — most holidays have their traditions.

But Veterans Day tends to elude veterans and civilians alike.

Despite numerous veterans in my family, including myself, I can’t think of a single instance we even acknowledged Veterans Day.

Perhaps our family is an outlier? So I dialed up some of my old army buddies and asked how they planned to spend Nov. 11. 

“What’s that on — a Monday?” asked Victor Varela, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served with me in Iraq. “Yeah, I’m working. I might go have a beer after, I guess.”

All the calls ended similarly and I was left asking what it is we are supposed to celebrate and for who.

Veterans Day is widely viewed as the day to honor the living, while Memorial Day is reserved for honoring the dead, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars website.

Originally dubbed Armistice Day, the holiday was created to honor the conclusion of World War I, which ended Nov. 11, 1918. 1n 1954, Congress renamed the event Veterans Day to honor veterans from World War II, the Korean War and future wars.

Vietnam-era veteran and Laramie resident John Hursh, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain, said celebrating Veterans Day can be as simple as a couple words and a quiet moment.

“Just walk up to a vet and say thanks,” Hursh said. “I think it’s best when someone comes up, looks you in the eye and thanks you for your service.”

Although he doesn’t have plans for anything fancy, Hursh said he has his own way of celebrating.

“I’m going to take a moment for myself,” he said. “It’s time to pause for a while and remember your buddies and think about how you got where you are and be thankful for our country.”

Tim Sheppard, executive director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, is a retired Army colonel who also served during the Vietnam War. Sheppard has seen many behavioral trends come and go since the late 1960s, but one receiving increased attention in recent years is “Stolen Valor,” the act of lying about military service to garner sympathy or respect.

The fraudulent acts could make some people hesitate before thanking a vet, not knowing if the person’s experiences were genuine. Sheppard said people should look past those rare cases and honor the spirit of the holiday.

“Take the risk and thank the vet,” he said. “Let us police ourselves and we’ll do our best to safeguard the integrity of military service.”   

If people don’t know a veteran to thank on Veterans Day, Sheppard suggested observing a moment of silence at the “eleventh minute of the eleventh hour.” 

As for me, I still struggle with how best to honor the holiday. I was lucky to serve at a time when soldiers were well-received and have been thanked on numerous occasions for my service. It’s a good feeling, but an awkward one.

My peers were volunteers. We served because we felt it was our duty or because we needed a way out of our situations or for the educational opportunities afforded by the G.I. Bill and sign-on bonuses. 

Our country didn’t call on us as much as we stepped forward and asked for the privilege. 

It feels self-aggrandizing to celebrate that experience with a national holiday, especially a holiday created to honor those who, in many cases, were not given a choice. 

So, I plan to spend this Veterans Day focusing on the experiences of my fellow veterans and what their service has afforded future generations. 

Whether you visit your local war memorial, thank a veteran in person or share a quiet moment of reflection, your efforts are what make this country worth serving. 

Thank you.

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