Military Servicewomen focus of 2023 Veterans Banquet
Thu, 11/16/2023 - 8:52am admin
Sara Stromseth-Troy TPD Staff Writer
CRESCO - Women who have served in the United States military were among those honored at the 2023 Veterans Banquet, hosted by the American Legion Post 135 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4561 at the EXPO Center last Saturday evening.
Emcee Warren Steffen, Private First Class, US Army Reserves, welcomed the crowd, noting that while all veterans are honored, that at each annual banquet, a theme is chosen, and the theme for 2023 is women who served the United States military.
Pastor Dan Baldwin of Immanuel Lutheran Church led the opening prayer, and Gary Johnson, US Army, Post 135, Chaplain, led the closing prayer. The American Legion and VFW Posts provided the posting and retiring of the Colors.
Welcoming special guests
Steffen welcomed special guests in attendance, including local veteran affairs service representative Marshall Rogne; American Legion Post 135 Commander Dodd Franklin and his wife, Barb; American Legion Department of Iowa Fourth District Commander, Cindy Yslas and her husband, Mike; House of Representatives for District 63, Michael Bergan; Steffen's wife, Karen, and VFW representative Leon Roethler and his wife, Amanda. Steffen thanked McAllister's Catering for preparing and serving the meal.
Special music showcased vocalist Rebecca Ortner and Megan Wochinski, United States Army, on flute. Ortner sang the National Anthem, 'The Star Spangled Banner'; 'God Bless the USA', 'America the Beautiful' and 'God Bless America'. Wochinski performed 'Battle Cry of Freedom', 'America the Beautiful', 'Battle Hymn of the Republic', 'Washington Post March' and 'You're A Grand Old Flag'. She also performed the service anthems while veterans of each branch of those services stood as their anthem was played. Both musicians led the audience in singing, 'America (My Country 'Tis of Thee').
The audience stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Jim Perry, United States Navy, narrated the POW/MIA Missing Man and Honors Ceremony. Recognitions were given to the Combat Wounded/Purple Heart/POW/ Foreign War Veterans. Raffle prizes were distributed by Cindy Yslas, U.S. Air Force and Jim Perry. U.S. Navy.
Steffen introduced featured speaker Mary Haifley, United States Army:
“Specialist Mary Ellen Haifley served from 2008-2014 in the United States Army Reserve, as an electrician in the 322nd Engineer Unit in Decorah, Iowa. Mary was born in Cresco, Iowa, and was raised in Granger, Minnesota, where she went to school in Fillmore Central Schools until 10th grade. She graduated high school in Riceville, Iowa and then moved to Washington, Iowa. Mary deployed to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 and after her deployment she lived in Washington, Iowa, before moving back to Cresco two years ago. She currently works at the Cresco Post Office as a mail carrier.”
Mary Haifley remarks
“Thank you for coming to the Veterans Day Banquet. My name is Mary Haifley. You may know me as a friend, family or even your mail lady.”
“When I was asked to give a speech I felt hesitant, but I feel so honored to have such great support from the community to get me to this point. I ran it through my head so many times about what I would like to say, but I decided the easiest thing to do would be to tell my story as a veteran.
“I never thought I would join the military. I was 17 years old and had never thought about my future in general. I didn't care much for school and never thought about going to college. A friend called me to tell me he was joining the Army. He asked me if I'd like to talk to his recruiter, and I said, 'No; I'm good.' After we talked and I had dismissed the idea, I couldn't help but think about it. So, I called him back to tell him I would talk to his recruiter.
“My sister was my guardian at the time, so when I told her I had talked to a recruiter, I think she was a little shocked, but she told me if that's really what I wanted to do, she'd sign for me. I was 17, going on 18, and for the first time, the reality of being an adult and graduating really hit me. I needed to do something with my life; maybe the Army would buy me some time to figure it out, but mostly I joined because I wanted to make my grandpas proud. I wanted to do something with my life to make my family proud of me, and so in July 2008, I enlisted in the Army Reserves."
“I graduated high school the following May, and at the beginning of June I left for basic training. I was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. A lot of it was a blur; I just know I was so anxious and excited to be there. I had no idea what I was really getting into. I remember getting there, being in reception and meeting all of the drill sergeants for our company. I remember all of us girls hoping we would get the female drill sergeants. I was put in the only platoon with all male drill sergeants, which I later became thankful for, because those female drill sergeants were ruthless. They weren't even mine and I was scared of them.
“I had the best battle buddy; she was my age and came from Iowa, as well. She was the sweetest girl I ever met.
“Speaking of sweet girls, my little sister came over the other night and I read her my speech. I told her I wished I could remember better. She told me she had a shoebox somewhere with all of my letters. She Facetimed me later that night; she was excited because she had found my letters from basic training. We sat on the phone for about an hour and she read me my letters. It was a walk down memory lane (recalling) what 18-year-old me had to write home about.
“I had been excited for my (basic training) graduation; I would get to see my family and it would be the first time they would see me in my uniform. They came for my graduation and I got to show them the barracks. My little sister was 10 years old at the time, and she cried the happiest tears as she hugged me. I remember she was so proud of me, and used to beg me to come to school lunch with her in my uniform; that meant a lot to me. She was so proud to have a sister in the Army. I loved that she and her friends looked up to me. Yes, women really can do anything. I never knew any females in the military, besides my brother's mom. My grandpa, my dad, my brother-in-law and my cousin had served in the Army; my uncle in the Navy and my brother had served in the Air Force. I think I was the first female in my family to serve, and for me, that was a huge honor.
“After graduation, I was off to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Things got a little harder there. We were echo company medics. Classes were long and hard, and we spent a long time studying. We girls spent a lot of time at the river walk, having dinner and shopping. I had to buy a suitcase just to fit all of the clothes I bought while we were there. The learning part was a lot harder, though. I knew what I was doing, and passed all of the hands-on tests, but the written tests didn't go so well for me. We had three tries and I thought that the third time I had passed. For the first time while in the Army, I was disappointed in myself. I had only ever wanted to be a medic, but sadly I had to become something else. They had us choose three things. I do know that 'electrician' was not on my list. I shipped off to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I was the only female in our class. We got along so well; I thought of my classmates as brothers and they treated me like a sister. I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of being an electrician, and thought it was sort of fun.
“I was in the 322nd engineering unit in Decorah. I was only there for a few months before I found out our unit would be deployed. Maybe I was young and naive; but I didn't think we would deploy, or at least not that fast. The reality of joining the Army hit, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared."