Historical Society hosts tribute to local veterans

T-R PHOTO BY SUSANNA MEYER — The American Legion Riders Post 46, along with several volunteers and community member Nicki Johnson, collected donations for the Veterans Appreciation Food Drive on Friday night during the Tribute to Marshall County Veterans event. Donations will be distributed on Memorial Day.

The west parking lot at Veterans Memorial Coliseum was temporarily transformed into an event venue Friday evening for the Historical Society of Marshall County’s May program, “A Tribute to Marshall County Veterans.” People sat in their camping chairs and stood attentively as they listened to the speakers.

The Historical Society partnered with the Marshalltown Central Business District, the Marshall County VA office, and American Legion Riders Post Number 46 to bring this program to the community. Speakers from each organization said a few words, and Matt Gerstandt, the owner of Black Tire Bike Company, spoke about his experiences in the United States Navy.

To kick the program off, Historical Society Administrator Michelle Roseburrough Halverson welcomed everyone in attendance before turning the floor over to Deb Millizer, the executive director of the MCBD.

Millizer spoke briefly about the veterans banner project she and Marshall County VA Director Kevin Huseboe have been working on since last October, with 124 sponsored banners honoring individuals from Marshall County who served in the military are hung from the streetlights around town.

Millizer talked about how the project got started and she became a little teary eyed when she talked about what it meant to her and the veterans of Marshall County.

“When I drive downtown, when I drive across the viaduct, when I look up at all of these banners, I see people and all of their sacrifices, and I remember the stories that were told to me,” Millizer said. “I am honored, and I am humbled, to have been a part of the process so that the rest of the community and the rest of the county can understand a portion of their sacrifices. It means so much to me and to my board, to have been a part of it, and Kevin Huseboe as well.”

After Millizer finished speaking, she explained that with every purchased banner, $25 was set aside to be donated to a cause of the VA’s choice. Upon Huseboe’s request, Millizer presented the check to the American Legion Riders Post 46 to be used towards the Veterans Appreciation Food Drive that was also being hosted in the Veterans Coliseum parking lot Friday evening.

Huseboe echoed Millizer’s sentiments about the banner project.

“It’s just been a great honor to do this project and (to see) the outpour from the community,” he said. “We’ve had an outpour of people calling and (who are) just very appreciative of what’s happening. It’s just been an honor, and we love what we do.”

Gerstandt, who spoke next, enlisted in the Navy in 2008 and went into aircraft maintenance. After some training, he became an avionics technician (AT) assigned to work on the EA-6B Prowler, an aircraft specializing in electronic warfare.

It didn’t carry ammunition but instead kept radar machines and blanking machines that could block out cell service and anything else that may have interfered with ground troop operations.

While he was based out of Whitney Island, Wash., Gerstandt said he found good success in the Navy, and he really enjoyed it. Eventually in 2010, the EA-6B was retired, and an F18 variant called the EA-18G Growler was introduced. Gerstandt said that turned into “quite the adventure,” and he received more schooling as a result.

In early 2011, Gerstandt was deployed to Al Asad, Iraq for a year before returning in early 2012.

“It was interesting. Al Asad was a fairly safe base. We spent a lot of time in Qatar, plenty of dessert stuff and plenty of sand,” Gerstandt said.

In 2010, the previous owner of Black Tire Bike Company, Mike Miltenberger, offered to sell the store to Gerstandt and his wife. Gerstandt was still thinking about whether or not he was going to re-enlist in the Navy, but the idea of purchasing the bike shop was always in the back of their heads.

“After a long year in Iraq, it was pretty much time to roll out, so we decided to buy it,” Gerstandt said. “May 7, 2012, we took over the bike shop, so there was only about a month difference from service to being self-employed. So, basically going from being told what to do and how to do it and where to do it to now you just have to wake up on your own and get to work.”

Gerstandt said his favorite part about being in the military was the people he met along the way.

“The people are what makes it. You’re going to have pressure from the top, but you know, you’ve got instant friends, you do. You have instant friends, no matter what you do or who you are,” he said.

Finally, community member Nicki Johnson spoke briefly about the Veteran Appreciation Food Drive she organized in partnership with the American Legion Riders Post 46. She and Post 46 collaborated on their first food drive last fall and helped to feed 150 veterans and their families.

Nonperishable food items, toiletry and hygiene products and paper products were all being accepted Friday night during the tribute with hopes of collecting enough food and supplies to help 200 veteran households by Memorial Day.

To contribute to the drive, email nickisveteranfooddrive@gmail.com to make arrangements for collection.


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