Sgt. 1st Class Amy and Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jorgensen, 35th Infantry Division, reflect on their military service together in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield, and the importance of Veterans Day. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Tina Villalobos)

Veterans Day reflections of family service and commitment

By Staff Sgt. Tina Villalobos
35th Infantry Division

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait—Although World War I officially ended June 28, 1919, the fighting stopped several months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

President Woodrow Wilson originally declared Nov. 11 as Armistice Day. Legislation passed June 1, 1954, changed that to Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Many of our nation’s veterans have become seasoned warriors over time, some with multiple deployments; many have made the military their way of life. For many Soldiers of the 35th Infantry Division, military service is a family tradition.

“My grandfather was one of five farm boys from Council Grove, Kansas,” said Maj. Todd Leeds, a 35th ID engineer. “When World War II started, they realized they would be drafted one way or the other. But if they would enlist, they would at least get some say in what they got to do. So my grandfather joined the Army Air Corps; his youngest brother enlisted in the 35th Infantry Division.”

Leeds’ great uncle, Archie D. Leeds, served with the 35th ID in France during World War II, and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions under heavy fire in December 1944.

“For us, it’s a family legacy,” said Leeds.

The legacy of Leeds’s great uncle continues, as Leeds and his brother, Maj. Derek Leeds, currently serve together with the 35th Infantry Division in the Middle East.

In fact, within the 35th ID, there are two sets of fathers and sons, three sets of siblings, and two sets of military spouses currently serving in the Middle East in support of Operations Spartan Shield and Inherent Resolve.

Strong sibling bonds have shown to strengthen several areas of the 35th Infantry Division.

Although in different units, Lantz and Travis Tipton find serving and deploying together helps to strengthen their respective units and enhance their capabilities.

“My brother, Lantz, joined a few years before I was able to, because he’s three years older,” said Travis, first sergeant of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1107th Theater Aviation Support Maintenance Group. “We have always worked together our entire career in the military. Even though we’re miles apart here, we can always pick up the phone.”

Lantz Tipton, first sergeant, Headquarters Support Company, 35th ID, who joined the Kansas National Guard 30 days after his 17th birthday, inherited a passion for military service from several uncles who served during the Vietnam War, and from his grandfather, who served in the Korean War. With more than two decades of service, Tipton could retire, but remains mission-focused and passionate.

“As a first sergeant, my mission is to ensure that the unit accomplishes whatever mission or task is at hand, and to do whatever it takes to take care of our Soldiers,” said Tipton.

Lantz also appreciated the connectedness expressed by his brother.

“We discuss different situations that we encounter,” said Tipton. “Prior to the 35th Infantry Division, arriving in our premobilization station and in-country, Travis helped me immensely by providing knowledge of what to expect. Those lessons were extremely helpful and benefitted not only me, but the entire company, and set us up for success.”

Another set of siblings share a close bond and work together to keep the 35th ID at its best.

Capt. Jennifer Denkler, plans, operations, programs, and policies, and her brother, 2nd Lt. John Denkler, project manager, appreciate serving together.

“My sister’s experience definitely played a large role in my joining the military,” said John. “I felt like I had no delusions about what I was getting myself into. I’ve lost count of the times Jennifer has provided help and support when I was facing a challenging issue or problem.”

Capt. Denkler also expressed gratitude at having her brother near.

“I am really close with my brother and confide in him often, for many situations,” said Denkler. “I am extremely proud to be able to serve our great nation, and especially proud to have the opportunity to deploy with my brother. This is something I never expected or predicted, but I am grateful that he is on this journey with me.”

When members of a unit are deployed, their support systems must often change. Military family members at home may rely on one another for things that their deployed family member cannot address, and may seek help from family readiness groups. Deployed unit members often turn to each other for support, and can become an extended family of sorts.

Having been a military child, with his father serving more than two decades of active duty in the Army, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jorgensen is aware of the challenges. His wife, Amy is also a sergeant first class. They have deployed together and brought their support system with them.

“We have the advantage of a built-in support network right here,” said Robert Jorgensen, combat engineer. “But, we do miss our kids and our dogs.”

Although the couple does consult one another about general soldiering and Army situations, their Army duties are very different.

“Amy is in civil affairs,” said Jorgensen. “She addresses work issues with dialogue and negotiation. I do demolition.”

Robert’s commitment to service runs decades deep.

“My father’s parents were both held in concentration camps during World War II,” said Jorgensen. “I would never allow that to happen to anyone as long as I can have anything to do about it. Both sides of my family are very patriotic. It never even crossed my mind not to serve.”

“For me, the meaning of Veterans Day has changed over time,” said Jorgensen. “It used to be a day to honor my father’s and grandfather’s service, along with the storybook heroes I read about when I was young, such as Audie Murphy, Sgt. Alvin York, and so forth. After serving for 19 years, including a very combat-heavy deployment to Afghanistan, it has become a day of remembrance for friends lost overseas and a time to reflect on the sacrifices that I and so many others have made in the name of freedom and security.”