by Steve Peterson
West Sioux Middle School and High School students heard from three active military members, Grant Van Beek, Jason Knueven and Joshua Pickner, during a Veterans Day assembly on Nov. 13.
Hawarden American Legion Post 254 participated and presented its Color Guard. West Sioux’s High School Choir sang the National Anthem.
Students Steven Marienau and Cristine Bronkhost acted as emcees.
“As President John F. Kennedy said, ‘as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them’.
“The first Veterans Day or Armistice Day was on Nov. 11, 1919 after the end of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed on that day, ‘to us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the opportunity it has given American to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.’”
Veterans Day was set on Nov. 11 in 1978.
Pickner graduated from West Sioux and is the brother of Ms. Pickner and the uncle of Dominic Hirsch. He has spent the last 13 years with the Iowa Army National Guard of Le Mars. He has spent seven years on active status with tours in eastern Europe (Kosovo), Iraq, Afghanistan and three years as a recruiting and retention officer. He has held positions as forward recognizance scout, a sniper section leader and is currently an infantry platoon sergeant.
Knueven is the West Sioux Community School District Talented and Gifted Teacher and Coordinator. He has spent 16 years in the Iowa National Guard. He enlisted in 1996 as an infantry soldier and went to basic training between his junior and senior year. In 2000, he was deployed to Kuwait. During that deployment he decided he wanted to attend Officer Candidate School to become an officer; he completed that and earned 2nd Lieutenant in 2002 and was assigned to the Le Mars unit. He was deployed to Kosovo as a Platoon Leader of 28 soldiers. In 2007 he was deployed to Afghanistan for 16 months working with the Afghan National Police. During that time he was promoted to Captain.
“Following deployment he became the Commander of Headquarter Troop 113 Calvary of Sioux City. He took Headquarters Troop to Afghanistan as the commander of that troop. Halfway through the 12-month deployment, he was moved to be Commander of Alpha Troop 1-113 Cavalry. He finished the deployment as the commander of A troop. He has turned over the command of A troop to another commander.”
“I was stationed at Camp Stanley in South Korea, which no longer exists, my job was field artillery. I tracked the rounds and made sure they went to the right places. Then I joined the National Guard for the last 15 years. I work with the retention for the Guard from Johnston, Iowa and worked with both of these guys in Kosovo (Knueven and Pickner); they’re good friends, comrades, brothers in arms. I waited until I was 21 years old to join. I was spinning my wheels after high school. I joined for the college benefits. The benefits are outstanding.
“My dad was a Vietnam veteran so I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” said Knueven.
“Kosovo deals with the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo itself. There was a time when those territories wanted to separate from Yugoslavia. The Serbian Army had what we called ethnic cleansing. They killed 130,000 people. We got involved in it in 1998, 1999, we moved in with the United Nations with Britain and France, and we were able to stabilize the area. We saw riots and a lot of different things. We taught them how to get along,” said Pickner.
“We made sure in Kosovo that the supplies were coming across the border. Their homes are brick. It’s very cold in the Winter and the only source of heat they have is wood. We made sure they survived,” said Van Beek.
“In the Kosovo time, as platoon leader my job was to work with the community members, the mayors, and held joint meetings,” said Knueven.
The three answered questions about their time in Afghanistan as well.
“The two different times I was there were two totally different experiences. The first time I was there I was working with the Afghan National Police and training, as a teacher, I would compare it to teaching a Kindergarten class. I lived on a base with the Afghan National Army. It was by far the best deployment.
“The second time, there was 148 of us U.S. troops, and we had our separate portions of the base from the Afghan Army. The Afghan Army would do security for us. As commander, I made sure the platoons under me did what they were supposed to be doing,” said Knueven.
“In Afghanistan, I guess there is no ‘average day’. Some days I would be in the gym, other times be out 10-11 days at a time. We do everything working with a platoon, or cleared hostile areas, do recognizance,” said Pickner.
Soldiers were asked about winning the “hearts and minds” of the areas that they served.”
“The second time I was in Afghanistan, we were in an area where US had been since 2001, so they were used to seeing US soldiers and worked with local schools. I tried to work with the children so they would understand that there is a better life for them. In Kosovo we tried to help their lives the best we could with blankets and clothing.
“The other time in Afghanistan we were in a more remote area, and they had not seen US forces and only knew what they were told about us,” said Knueven. “It was harder to win their hearts and minds. Slowly but surely we are doing it. The basic thing for me is what is in the future for them,” said Knueven.