by Jim Boyle
Staff Sgt. Dan Westby has been deployed three times in his 16 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard, once to Kosovo and twice to Iraq.
The former Elk River resident was greeted by a parade in downtown Anoka upon his return from Kosovo in 2000. It was the same kind of hero’s welcome his unit had gotten upon their previous return from Bosnia in 1997.
But when he and his comrades in the ETAB out of the Anoka Armory came back from Iraq the first time in 2005, there was nothing.
The second time he came back from Iraq in 2010, a small church outside of Anoka held a brief welcome-home ceremony. It lasted minutes, practically leaving a hole in the hearts of soldiers who compared the feelings that welled up inside them at parades.
But never has Westby stood so proud and tall as he did for President Barack Obama at Obama’s inaugural ball last month.
Westby said the best part was having his wife, Kari, at his side, who has been his most ardent supporter. “She has been so proud to be the wife of a soldier,” he told the Star News. “I never had that kind of support before. I was so proud to go with her and to have this dream come true.”
Westby was one of only two Minnesota Army National Guard members to represent the Minnesota Guard at the ball. He was also only one of only 130 nationwide picked from a particular layer of the armed forces across the country.
He and Kari, who leads the Family Readiness Group for the Anoka Armory, say they sensed the hand of God in this once-in-a-lifetime honor that they intend to pay back.
They are starting by recruiting military veterans and their families to a dinner being hosted by the Elk River Beyond the Yellow Ribbon group from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 11 at Central Lutheran Church, 1103 School St., Elk River.
As of Wednesday this past week, the number of RSVPs was small. The reservation deadline has been extended to the middle of this week.
The dinner is intended to honor the military and provide an opportunity for military personnel and their families to get acquainted.
Reservations can be made by calling 763-441-2363, ext. 230, and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Future dinners are slated for March 11, April 8 and May 13.
“This is so important,” Kari said.
She sees the need as the wife of a military man. Westby sees it from the perspective of a soldier, who is also a grim statistic.
He and first wife divorced, something he vows won’t happen with him and Kari. But his unit has set a record for the most marital break-ups, they report.
He had been with same E Battery 157 FA, or ETAB as its called, for most of his military career. He has been deployed for field artillery radar (tracking motors, rockets and small arms fire).
As of this past November he was transferred to HHB DET 1-125, known simply as the DET. It’s likely his newest unit will be deployed sometime this year. It is Kari’s hope that there’s more support for the families left back home when this happens.
“We need Beyond the Yellow Ribbon in Anoka,” the Elk River Minnesota School of Business graduate said, noting she was so happy to see Elk River has been declared a Yellow Ribbon city.
The Westbys have been recruiting guests for the Elk River dinner ever since finding out about it, and they hope to make lasting and helpful connections to strengthen the support systems for the soldiers who are assigned the Anoka Armory.
“We hope this is a pivotal time for us,” said Kari, who hopes to coordinate events for the units out of the Anoka Armory.
Westby lived in Elk River from 2005 until recently, when he and his wife and their kids moved to Becker. He grew up in Dayton and graduated from Champlin Park High School in 1997.
Yellow Ribbon dinner for military vets, their families:
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 11, at Central Lutheran Church, 1103 School St.
Tickets: Free, thanks to Beyond the Yellow Ribbon but RSVP by calling 441-2363 (ext. 230) or email Carol Greier at email@example.com.