Volume 127, Number 1
Motorcycle ride honors friend and raises awareness for PTSD
BY SARA J. PLUM
In the left breast pocket of his uniform is a piece of white paper that has been folded in half and then in half again. The edges are a little worn and you can tell this piece of paper has been handled numerous times.
On this piece of paper is a picture of a young soldier in an Airborne uniform and words telling of the ritual followed when burying the dead.
SPC David Young, an information technology specialist at Camp Grafton near Devils Lake, gives the paper a slight caress as he opens it, double checking a date he will remember the rest of his life.
April 26, 2007. The day SSG Joe Biel took his own life.
Four years earlier SPC Young had graduated from Moorhead (Minn.) Tech with a degree in microcomputer networking. At that time job opportunities were not plentiful, so in November of 2003 he became a member of the North Dakota National Guard. On Aug. 5, 2005 Young began voluntary deployment to Iraq with 4th Platoon of Alpha Company of the 164th Engineers Battalion.
His parents, Linda and Brian Young of Leeds, weren’t too keen on their oldest going to Iraq. "But," Linda said, "I think David was born to be a soldier."
When Young got to Iraq he found himself in a group of roughly 30 soldiers, many of whom had been in Iraq before. His section sergeant was a former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne and a native of Sisseton, SD, SSG Joe Biel.
Biel became a mentor to the "green" Young, teaching him how to spot IED’s and insurgents and the little things that can be the difference between life and death.
Another member of the platoon, SSG Matthew Leaf of Moorhead, Minn. was on his third deployment with Biel. "Joe was fanatical about details. He had no problem getting in your face if you didn’t check your batteries or make sure you had enough water along. He saved our lives day in and day out because of that."
The platoon’s job was "route clearance," making travel safe for coalition forces, suppliers and the Iraqi people who lived and worked in the area. This meant eight-hour patrols, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, traveling at a top speed of 10 miles per hour looking for IED’s and insurgents.
Eight-hour patrols the soldiers knew they may not make it back from alive.
Known as the Trailblazers, these soldiers are among the most respected in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Young said, "When we’d show up we’d hear ‘Good, the North Dakota boys are here. They’ll get this cleaned up.’ Our work ethic was well-known." During the deadliest and busiest years of OIF, 2005 to 2006, Alpha Company found the most IED’s among the companies doing clean up, 471.
According to Young, "A Navy Seal bomb disposal team was embedded with us to cut down on time. When we found an IED it would take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours for the disposal team to get there. Having them with us meant we could clear an area faster."
Young’s primary job on patrol was as the platoon leader’s humvee driver.
Biel was usually in the "Buffalo," a thickly armored mine disposal truck used to seek out and dispose most IED’s. On May 20, 2006 a temporary personnel change put Young as a gunman in the turret of the humvee he normally drove. He wasn’t comfortable with the change, but orders are orders, so he took the position and got ready for patrol.
Young’s father, Brian, related what he was told about that day. "They were on night patrol and an insurgent remotely set off an IED. The explosion knocked David from the turret into the humvee. When he came to, the patrol was in the middle of a gun fight, so David grabbed his weapon and started shooting. At cease fire, the leader did a roll call and ordered everybody to one location. David said he couldn’t move, then collapsed. He was taken by helicopter to the Air Force Base hospital."
His mother, Linda picked up the story, "I received a call at work that David had been hurt and that he was being checked over. They said they’d get back to me when they knew more. A half an hour later they called. He had a hairline fracture in his neck, but could move his fingers and toes, arms and legs. He was also banged up some, but would be okay."
Young was in the hospital about a day and a half, then went back to his unit for a month of recovery. He admitted it was hard to "lay around"
when his unit was going out every day on patrol, but knew he needed to recover fully before he could join them again.
When asked how they were able to go on those deadly missions, Young commented, "You tell yourself you’re doing a job, that you’re making a difference and serving a purpose. And you drive off knowing you may not make it back."
Alpha Company came home Nov. 10, 2006. They returned with one less, having lost 21-year-old SPC Michael L. Hermanson of Fargo during a route-clearing mission on May 24, 2006, four days after Young was hurt.
At each airport on the long journey home, the soldiers were greeted by Vietnam Vets who shook their hands and told them there was no way they could’ve done what the Trailblazers did. "These were guys we look up to for what they had to do in ‘Nam," Young said. "And they were telling us that was nothing to what we just did."
Acclimating to civilian life is harder than acclimating to combat. Your sense of purpose is different, as is your sense of what really matters.
Then there’s the bond formed with your unit. These guys were there, they did the same things you did and you depended on each other as much, if not more, than you used to depend on your parents to keep you safe. You returned home as brothers, then went your separate ways to try pick up your life again.
Biel decided to move to Devils Lake and took a job at Camp Grafton. He and Young became roommates and worked on getting used to civilian life.
But Biel wasn’t the same. Young said the fun-loving, charismatic leader he met had changed.
The day Biel took his life, Young was there, trying to talk him out of it. And it still weighs heavily on his mind that he wasn’t able to save his brother.
Not quite a year later, SSG Leaf called Young and suggested organizing a motorcycle ride in memory of Biel. Leaf was at Fort Hood, Texas and talked about all the motorcycle runs for different causes he’d seen.
Word got out and the first year about 20 guys got together to remember their fallen brother, most of them from Camp Grafton. The next year a few more joined in. This year the ride takes on an additional meaning.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something everyone has heard about, but only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate the devastation of the condition.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone has been through a traumatic event. The DVA describes a traumatic event as something horrible and scary that a person sees or has happen to them; an event that causes a person to feel their life and/or other’s lives are in danger and that the person has no control over what is happening.
The disorder is very real, but not always recognizable or consistent.
Because each person is unique, how they handle trauma is unique as well.
Leaf says there are no concrete numbers on the correlation between PTSD and suicide, but there have been approximately 6,200 suicides by veterans per year since Afghanistan and Iraq, and that number is growing. Of those deaths, about half are veterans of the Vietnam war (or conflict, if you want) and the rest are guardsmen and reservists who served in Afghanistan and/or Iraq.
Young and Leaf know their brother was suffering and are determined to create awareness about PTSD so other soldiers can get the specialized help they need. They have set up a Web site with information about their non-profit group, Trailblazer MC. There is also an account at Gate City Bank where donations are received. The money is used for any soldier who needs financial help to receive proper treatment for PTSD.
This year the Trailblazer motorcycle run will be held on Saturday, May 15. Everyone is welcome to join for the whole ride or part of it. If you don’t ride, stop by and visit. The itinerary is on the Web site, www.trailblazermc.com.
And if you’re a soldier who is having trouble readjusting, Young and Leaf ask that you call someone, anyone and get help. They know first hand that suicide is not the answer. There are people who have been there and are more than willing to take the time to listen.
Because a white piece of paper with a picture and words cannot describe someone who was a friend, mentor and brother. It does not have the ability to shed tears, feel sorrow or ask why. It can only be a reminder that not all casualties of war happen on a battlefield.
SPC David Young poses with items from his military career that cover the top of a small credenza in his office. Among those items are the Purple Heart he was awarded, a piece of shrapnel that was inches away from taking his life and an American flag.
This is the logo SSG Joe Biel designed for the Trailblazers. Talented artist is just one of the many phrases his friends used to describe him.
SSG Joe Biel inside a Buffalo, the heavily armored vehicles used to search for IED’s.
SSG Joe Biel poses in front of a Buffalo.
Minnewaukan at Horizons
Karyn Neve, Sherri Thompson and Claudette Carlson of Minnewaukan attended the Horizons celebration May 4 in Bismarck. Sherri created a backboard display and scrapbook to display during the event. These items are currently in the Minnewaukan Library. The group heard remarks from Lynette Flage, NDSU Extension Horizons Project Director; Dr. D.C. Coston, NDSU vice president for Agriculture and University Extension; Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Northwest Area Foundation; Kevin Dvorak, president of the North Dakota Foundation; and Governor John Hoeven. Presentations were given by 14 of the 15 Phase III Horizons communities. This was the final event of the 18 month Phase III Horizons to reduce poverty grant program. Each community will receive a $10,000 grant. Left to right, front row, are Dr. D.C. Coston, Sherri Thompson, Karyn Neve and Claudette Carlson. Back row: Kevin Dvorak, Gov. John Hoeven and Kevin Walker.
Two North Dakota teachers have been recognized as Newspapers in Education (NIE) Teachers of the Year. The awards, presented at the 124th annual convention of the North Dakota Newspaper Association in Fargo on May 1, went to Sheila Moser of Leeds High School (left) and Barb Witteman of Kennedy Elementary School in Fargo (right). The award is presented annually to teachers who productively use newspapers as a support in various classroom subjects including reading, mathematics, art and current events.
Moser grew up on a farm near Kulm and received a bachelor’s degree from Jamestown College. She has completed sufficient credits for a master’s degree from UND. Her teaching career began at Four Winds
High School in 1990 and she has continued to use the newspaper in her classroom at Leeds High School since 1992. In addition to using newspapers in teaching journalism, creative writing, graphic arts, photography and marketing at Leeds High School, Moser took her sophomore class on a job shadowing experience with the staff at the Grand Forks Herald where, Moser said, her students "connected real people to the articles and careers of the newspaper world."
Moser’s husband, Larry, is a history educator. They are the parents of three sons, Brett, a minister at River City Church in Fargo; Marco, a nurse anesthetist at MeritCare in Fargo; and Kelan, a commodity buyer for Goodrich in Jamestown. They have four grandchildren.
Earns Star Award
Bo Lauckner, an eighth grader at the Leeds High School, received a star rating at both the Regional Music Contest and the State Music Contest with his xylophone solo. He is the son of Lisa Lauckner of Leeds.
Students learn about the world
Students are learning about the world at Warwick Public School The kindergarten class of Mrs. Becca Gjovik and first grade class of Miss Amy Olson teamed up to adopt an incubator full of eggs.
The students watched closely and waited impatiently for the big day when the first egg started to crack. It was peep, peep, peep for days of excitement as the chicks settled into their new home of a plastic child’s swimming pool with heat lamp and wood shavings. Their names are Pengie, Jumper, Poatcher, Fuzzy and Zig Zag.
In the meantime just down the hall and in conjunction with Earth Day, a tropical rainforest was being constructed by Mrs. Linda Ferguson’s second grade class with the help of Mrs. Charlotte Franks-Erickson.
The students gathered the first layer outdoors and used real plants for the other layers, topping it off with huge paper trees.
They also made snakes, frogs and large bugs to put in it.
Some of the new baby chicks are pictured with a six-ounce orange juice container.
Second graders work on the bottom layer (forest floor) of their rainforest model they constructed in the hallway. Left to right are Mrs.
Kelly Lund, Drew Cavanaugh, Jackson Delorme, Sydney Tollefson, Devin Cavanaugh, Paul Thiele, Addison Greyhorn and Mariah Redfox. In the foreground is Kory Georgeson.
About half the second grade class poses with their rainforest. Left to right, standing at left are Chadd Keo, Paul Thiele and Kalem Jackson.
Sitting are Diego Lufkins, Mariah Redfox, Sydney Tollefson, and Klint Georgeson. Standing are Brielle Ramirez (in rear), Gary Feather, Destiny Iceman and Montero Redfox.
Mrs. Pranke’s fourth grade class at the Warwick School returned to Miss Olson’s miniature farm where kindergarten and first grade students raised and hatched several chicken eggs. Mark Lufkins holds one of the chicks.
Sage Bertsch was amazed at how much the chicks have grown in 12 days.
Miss Olson and Seanna Georgeson look at one of the chicks. Mrs. Pranke said the children would remember this learning experience for a long time.
Shania Georgeson holds one of the young chicks.