Jason Marquardt, Fillmore County Veterans Service officer, of Mabel, is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Jason Marquardt, Fillmore County Veterans Service officer, of Mabel, is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
One might say serving his country is a family tradition for Staff Sergeant Jason Marquardt of Mabel.

His father, Danny, was a Vietnam veteran, and his grandfather, Warren, was a Korean War veteran.

"I guess I just wanted to follow in their footsteps," said Marquardt, who serves as the Veterans Service officer for Fillmore County.

Marquardt grew up in Sleepy Eye, Minn., and got an early start on his military career when he enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard as a junior in high school.

"I went to basic training between my junior and senior year and then did my individual training after high school," he said.

Serving in the 35th Military Police Company, Marquardt would attend drills once a month and was deployed on State of Minnesota missions whenever they needed him.

"I did a total of five stateside missions, where they called on the Guard for help," said Marquardt.

In one instance, Marquardt's unit helped after a tornado in Granite Falls.

He also remembers looking for a lost child near St. Cloud.

"I remember walking through the woods about an arm's length away from the guy next to you," he said.

During the state strike in 2001, Marquardt was stationed at the state medical hospital in St. Peter for security. Later that year, following 9/11, he helped provide armed security for a couple of the state's refineries, which had been designated as possible terrorism targets.

His last stateside active duty mission was helping with the floods of 2007, which hit Winona and Rushford.

"Our job was to just stop people from going into unsafe areas," he said.

Afghanistan

Marquardt said aside from state maneuvers, he's also been deployed overseas on three occasions.

In 2003-04, he served as a military policeman in Kandahar, Afghanistan, during Operation Enduring Freedom.

"I ran the gate that allowed anyone coming on or off post through. I also did law and order, just like a civilian police officer would do," he said.

Marquardt also worked in an internment facility for "persons under control."

"Over there, you don't know who your enemy is. There is no uniformed military that we're fighting," he said.

Marquardt said occasionally people would be detained just because they ran from a helicopter, or behaved in some way that aroused suspicion.

"The military then just does an investigation to determine if they might be part of the Taliban or Al Qaeda," he said.

"If it was determined they were, they would be sent to Guantanamo," Marquardt explained. "If not, they were sent home ... But most of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Iraq

On another mission in 2009 to Basrah, Iraq, Marquardt said his company didn't have a specific mission.

"My platoon ended up running an entry control point that was only for military control vehicles. Our day-to-day duties were to check convoys to make sure there were no improvised explosive devices that would come on to base.

While he was there, he went on several convoy missions to Talill, Iraq.

"At that point I was a desk sergeant, like a dispatcher. I would send our MP patrols to investigate whatever was going on base... rollovers, thefts, rocket attacks. The MP patrols went to investigate where the impact was and make sure there were no casualties or loss of equipment," he said.

A different war

In Marquardt's day job, he deals with many veterans who have served in a variety of conflicts, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

He said he sees a big difference in the way war was fought then, compared to what happens now.

"Now we're training their (the enemy's) police officers, and then we hand them weapons to protect their citizens and they turn around and shoot us," he said.

He said during WWII and Korea, the soldiers knew, to some extent, who they were fighting, and their goal included changing the attitude of their enemies.

"The difference is you can't change these people over there," he said.

Fallen comrades

One of Marquardt's most prized possessions is a remembrance bracelet he wears on his wrist, to commemorate three of his fallen colleagues from the First Platoon of the 34th MP Company.

"They are Specialist Drevnick, Specialist Wertish and Specialist Wilcox. All three of them were killed on July 16, 2009, by a 120mm rocket," he said.

Although Marquardt was still deployed at the time of their deaths, it meant a lot to him that his wife, Sherry, and son, Tanner, were able to attend all three of their funerals.

"There's a little bit of each one of them I can remember," he said.

Helping heroes

When talking about the services his office offers, Marquardt said it is his job to assist veterans in applying and getting their federal benefits from the department of Veterans Affairs. This includes service disability compensation, health care, pension and burial benefits.

"Pension is based on income, and they have to have served at least one day during war time. It's to help veterans become financially stable," he said.

Marquardt also helps veterans receive their compensation for service-related injuries.

"The VA and federal government will pay for an injury during your time of service. They will compensate you medically and financially and you can receive mental health counseling," he said.

"I once heard someone say 'There are no unwounded veterans - whether physical, mental or emotional.'"

Marquardt said his office helps around 1,600 veterans in Fillmore County and that number is increasing all the time.

"We've just seen 10 years of war and we've got a lot of military members to take care of now," he said.

He said often older veterans are reluctant to come in for services, because they think they can do without them or don't deserve them.

"I think they do deserve it because there is only 1 to 3 percent of this country's population who has ever said 'I will defend this country' and has joined this nation's military. I think that 1 to 3 percent should be taken care of for the rest of their life," Marquardt stressed.

He encourages anyone who might be eligible for benefits to apply.

"If you've been hurt, file a claim, because it's the only way you're going to get taken care of. These people signed their names on the dotted line to serve this country," he said.

In closing, Marquardt recounted one of his favorite military quotations, by an unknown author: "A veteran is a person who at one time in their life wrote a blank check to the United States government for up to, and including their life ... That's kind of the God's honest truth there."

For more information about veterans' benefits, contact Marquardt at the Fillmore County Veterans Service Office, 902 Houston St., NW, Suite 4, Preston, MN 55965, or email jmarquardt@co.fillmore.mn.us, or call (507) 765-4405.