Soldiers tell their story by Lacey Harrison

Seven current and former members of the military spoke to an audience at DMACC Tuesday, Nov. 8, as part of The Telling Project: Des Moines.

“Telling: Des Moines” is part of a national theatrical effort called The Telling Project, Austin, Texas.

The performance is a combination of a play and a speech. It was a dramatic way of speaking to show how they felt before, during and after their times of the military.

Randy Brown, member of the Army National Guard from 1990-2010, was, in 2010, preparing to deploy to Eastern Afghanistan. After he dropped off the deployment list, he retired with 20 years of military service. He decided to go to Afghanistan anyways, embedded with Iowa’s Red Bull units as a civilian journalist.

During his years of duty, “I did six months of peace duty in Egypt. I got a combat patch for peace keeping duty,” Brown said. Brown started writing a journal. “I wanted to be able to tell my kids why their father was gone for a year of their childhood,” Brown said. Brown resides in Johnston with his wife and two children.

Joy Heldt, Army National Guard spouse, grew up in Saylorville and met her husband through her older brother, who was enlisted in the Iowa National Guard. Her husband is currently in the National Guard and her son is leaving for the Air Force in February.

“A military family has unique challenges and unique blessings,”

Heldt said. When her dad passed away she was grieving because her husband wasn’t physically there and because her dad really wasn’t there. “Coming home on leave is a good thing and a bad thing. He [her husband] came home on Christmas, which was great but then he had to leave after,” Heldt said. “I watched him [at the airport] till he walked all the way up the stairs and I couldn’t see him anymore. I would then see a man in uniform and my heart would flutter, then I noticed that’s not my military man.”

Steve Hyde was with the United States Army and Army National Guard from 1965 to 2007. He served with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief and door gunner. He received a Purple Heart medal when he was shot down in October of 1967.

He then returned to civilian life and decided to join the Iowa National Guard. He served for 32 years and rose to the rank of Command Sergeant Major.

The beginning of his career they came out and asked who wants to fly. “My hand shot straight up,” Hyde said. One time when he and a captain were flying they took a risk of landing to get something. The first time everything went okay even though Hyde was scared.

“I’m back in my element, I’m back where I belong.” said Hyde when he got back into his helicopter. Then the captain wanted to do it again but their enemies caught on. They landed the second time when all of a sudden they were being shot at. “The captain took three rounds in the chest and I held onto him all the way back to base. I didn’t even know his name,” Hyde said. Since 2007, Hyde has been a National Service Officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart and was recently promoted to Regional Field Supervisor in June of 2011.

Robert Jones, Army National Guard from 1997 to present, enlisted as a 92A automated Logistical Specialist in June 1997. “I knew a girl, a real pretty girl, and thought, ‘if she can do it, I could too,” Jones said.

Once Jones graduated from basic training he looked over and saw his parents, “the feeling, God it’s amazing.” In 2004, he deployed to Afghanistan with Iowa’s 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment.

Jones was promised a promotion that he didn’t get because they already had a Sargent, “but that Sargent became my best friend,” Jones said. He was on leave when he went home to see his son for the first time, he was two months old. “I walked over to see my son and looked at him and I just lost it. Then my fiancé heard me and she turned around to see me there and she loses it too,” Jones said.

His first son was born while in Afghanistan and his second while in Iraq. Jones said, “I’m damn proud for serving this country and I’m damn proud to continue serving.” Jones currently resides in Johnston, Iowa with his fiancée Amy, and his four children.

Steve Sutton, Army National Guard from 1996 to 2004, grew up in Boone and resides in slater. He enlisted as a heavy equipment operator while still in high school. In 2000, Steve was selected to join the 71st Civil Support Team (C.S.T.), a specialized Air and Army National Guard unit. “I will never forget when my phone call from the pentagon during 9/11. The person on the line said ‘Oh s***, we just got hit,’ and hung up the phone,” Sutton said. When Sutton’s dad got sick, they sent him home. The last year of his dad’s life, he got to spend every day with him. “Then I buried him, and that’s when I decided to turn my life around.” “I’m the fifth generation in my family. I grew up in a medical family and at the age of five, I started to learn CPR from my dad.” Sutton talked about joining because of a traumatic incident that happened when he was young. Sutton is married to Kristen and is the proud father of Connor. Him and his wife are expecting a little girl on Nov. 27. Sutton now volunteers with Paws and Effect, a Des Moines non-profit that trains service dogs for disabled combat veterans.

Sean Taylor, Army National Guard and army Reserves from 2002 to present, deployed to Afghanistan in 2002-2012. After returning from deployment, he transferred to the Army Reserves. Sean joined the army right before the age requirements would have cut him off. “I raised my hand three days before I turned 36,” Taylor said. He had his cousin there to pin his wings on him at graduation. “He pinned them on the right way (punches chest),” Taylor said. He explained about tough times that he was going through during his life. “One day I was so mad so I took my camera and went on a walk. I found a flower and zoomed in. I made a promise and said no matter where I’m at, no matter what I’m doing, I’m going to find something beautiful and send them home to the family,” Taylor said. “I shot cameras, not guns. I’m not supposed to have post dramatic stress. But over the past year my camera and articles have really helped me.” In civilian life, he is a psychology/sociology professor at DMACC’s Boone Campus. He lives in Ames with his wife, Shannon, and their five children.

Danielle Marie Polzin, Army National Guard from 2005 to present, is currently enlisted and waiting for a medical discharge for injuries sustained while training for deployment in Afghanistan in 2010. Polzin had great physical and emotional strength that many people noticed. She said she was basically one of the guys. “I earned the respect of some of the snipers, they became my buddies. They were very ornery but they were a great group of guys. They took me on like a little sis,” Polzin said. Later during training she was injured. “I was carrying 150-170 extra pounds on my back and started running as fast as someone could. I got about 100 feet from my truck and collapsed. My back was burning,” Polzin said. She then went back to camp and they did an MRI on her back. “There were only two discs on my back that weren’t bulged. My doctor then said I can’t do this anymore and put a sticker on my file that said ‘non-deployable’,” Polzin said. She was very upset and she has been waiting for two years to get her medical discharge. “Now I’m promising to help soldiers. I’m going back to school for law. I will do anything I can to help my soldiers because that’s what I do.” Polzin plans to graduate from DMACC in December 2012, and to transfer to a 4-year university. Her ultimate goal is to practice Agriculture and Environmental Law and to represent Iowa soldiers without charge.

Leland Lester was the special guest at the show is a veteran of the United States Navy from 1940 to 1946 and the Navy Reserves from 1946 to 1956. He was born and raised in Colfax. “I dropped out of high school at 17 and at 18 I joined the U.S. Navy,” Lester said. He was stationed in Pearl Harbor on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania during the attack on Dec. 7, 1941. He went on to fight in the South Pacific, returning to the United States in 1946. As soon as Lester returned home, he started going to church again and joined the choir. One day at church a lady came up to him to ask about her brother. “I gave her a ride home and that was the beginning of the relationship,” Lester said. They got married and had three children. He was called to Korea and once they found out he had three kids they changed their minds and said that he has served his country well. He continued working until his wife passed away. Lester said, “I just turned 91. If I had my life to do over again, I’d surely do the same thing.” Lester has been talking to schools and organizations about his experience in the Navy since 1995.

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