Tag Archives: Nebraska National Guard

Cornhuskers Relieve Hurricane Catastrophes

May 16, 2018 by
Photography by provided by Nebraska National Guard

Like everyone who serves in the National Guard, Master Sgt. Matthew Jordan is accustomed to “the call” in all its variations. It could come in the form of a two-month advanced notice that he’ll be deployed to Afghanistan. Other times, the notice is far shorter. Last August, he was told to report for duty in one hour to respond to Hurricane Harvey.

Jordan was closely monitoring news reports as Labor Day was approaching. The hurricane made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25. Jordan was keeping in touch with his father, who decided to ride out the storm in his Houston home. His father’s home didn’t suffer much damage, and after a few days of not getting “the call,” Jordan and his wife were beginning to make plans for the long Labor Day weekend. On Thursday before the holiday, he heard his division would not be called up. The next day, while watching SportsCenter, his supervisor called him.

“I had to say goodbye to my kids on the phone, kiss my wife, and I was out the door,” Jordan says.

Last fall, the Nebraska National Guard was repeatedly called up to respond to hurricanes Harvey and Maria. Jordan was part of a 44-person medical team that was sent to Texas. The mission lasted about 10 days. For the first few days, Jordan says he braced himself to be called out on a mission that would never materialize.

“You get adrenaline, and that mission would fall apart,” Jordan says.

Jordan ended up staying in a hotel in Beaumont, Texas. He eventually moved to a church near the city of Vidor, which is located in extreme southeast Texas, close to the Louisiana border. Around the fifth day of his deployment, he finally got his orders: set up two tents and provide medical care to the storm victims.

Over two-and-a-half days, Jordan estimated his team treated about 180 patients. The majority of those were treated for pharmacy-related problems. Most of the pharmacies in the area were still shut down, and people were running out of their medications. Jordan was in charge of getting water and coordinating medical supply deliveries. During this time, he was running on about four hours of sleep a night.  Finding a place to shower was oftentimes a challenge because many places still didn’t have running water.

“It was so hot and humid. I cannot describe what an armpit that place was,” Jordan says.

During his mission, Jordan was stopped by a man who had just moved to Beaumont from Chicago. The man had moved his wife and two children into a house two weeks before the hurricane hit town. His entire house had flooded, and his family was living out of his car.

“Helping him out meant the most,” Jordan says. “I felt really bad for him, because I have a wife and three kids.”

The National Hurricane Center estimates that at least 68 people died in Texas due to Harvey. The conservative death toll for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico stands at 64, but there are estimates that hundreds of people have lost their lives from that storm’s aftereffects.

Capt. Cody Cade was deployed along with Staff Sgt. Koan Nissen to document the National Guard’s response to Maria in Puerto Rico. Like Jordan, Cade was called up quickly. He had just returned from a week of training in Fort Riley, Kansas.

“I literally walked through the door to my house, put my rucksack down on the floor, and the phone rang,” he says.

Cade and Nissen headed to Puerto Rico almost two months after the hurricane made landfall. When he arrived at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Cade noticed most all of the airport’s ceiling tiles were missing from where he could see. He also noticed an exodus of people waiting to leave.

“It was just mass chaos,” Cade says. “There were thousands of people waiting to get on a plane.”

While thousands were still trying to leave, Cade and Nissen were going inland. In 28 days, the two interviewed 70 people, took about 2,000 photographs, and traveled almost 1,600 miles. While traveling, Cade says the roads were still filled with debris. In one case, his team came across a bridge that had been washed out. No one from the Army Corps of Engineers had yet identified the bridge was gone, Cade says.

Cade primarily stuck with interviewing National Guard members—one of whom had lost her niece, born prematurely shortly before Hurricane Maria hit. Then, she lost her grandfather from medical complications because of the storm. Her grandfather was recovering from a heart attack in a hospital. The hospital he was staying at had lost both its main power and backup generators.

“She had not taken any time off from the hurricane whatsoever,” Cade says.

All of Cade’s interviews are now at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington D.C. They will be transcribed, and later will be made into a book, detailing the relief efforts.

After returning to Nebraska, Cade says it felt like he was visiting another country: “It’s a shock to see a portion of the United States could be just devastated in such a manner. Stuff was just wiped off the face of the planet.”

He sees it as one big “family” coming together “to help our own.”


Visit ne.ng.mil for more information about the Nebraska National Guard.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Skydiving With Family

April 29, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

I could die.

Endless possibilities swirl along with the growling engine of the Cessna 182 wide-body airplane.

At 6,000 feet and climbing, Kenneth “Sonny” Bader, 65, yawns. Plunging to the ground at a high velocity doesn’t enter his mind. Instead, he contemplates a long nap. After all, Sonny has 6,500 jumps under his feet. He is no rookie. His son, Travis, 29, moves gracefully in the small space, unhooking his seatbelt and slapping a black helmet over his head. The aircraft’s interior is tight, allowing enough room for only four people and the pilot.

Just a week before, I sat across from both men sipping a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Skydiving had never been on my bucket list. Why would I want to jump out of a perfectly good plane?

“It’s a fascination. It’s beautiful. It’s an incredible experience,” Travis explains. “It’s just you and the air, fast-paced, and then you have the serene, quiet canopy ride.”

Sonny insists the only way to really know what it’s like is to come out and try it. Newcomers could either jump alone or tandem (with a certified skydiver).

Yeah, right. And yet…a desire to leap into the unknown appealed to me. A week later, fear paralyzes my mind as I fill out forms, basically signing my life away. I watch a brief video where an old bearded skydiving legend warns about all the ways I could get injured, maimed, or die.

The Lincoln Sport Parachute Club members calm me down. “No one has died from it in the club,” Sonny says. He suspects the last skydiving death in Omaha occurred almost 40 years ago, and modern technology has decreased the odds.

Sonny, a Federal Aviation Administration Master Rigger, checks, repairs, and modifies each pack. I trust his skill as the airplane climbs in elevation to the drop zone. Tandem master Greg Hladik is sitting behind me in the plane, so close his chest vibrates against my back as he talks.

“We are in this together,” Hladik reminds me. Screaming, throwing up, or clinging are all a part of the tandem game. With 300 tandems and 1,260 jumps to his credit, Hladik reminds people to slow down their minds, take it all in, and enjoy the ride.

“I love it. It’s a thrill every time,” he says.

Hladik, a paramedic with the Omaha Fire Department for the past 11 years, is known for his state and national record-setting wingsuit formations. He begins the process of hooking us together as I make the mistake of glancing out the window to watch the increasingly distant plains below.

The pilot, Rick Buesing, turns around with a confident smile as we ascend to 10,000 feet.

“Are you ready?” Sonny asks.

“No, but I’m okay,” I reply. The thought of plummeting into the deep blue sky has my stomach dropping before even approaching the exit door.

Sonny’s first taste of free-falling came right after high school in 1970 when he joined the Army. An airborne recruiter roped him into a parachuting opportunity. Stand up. Hook up. Go. As Sonny exited the door, he couldn’t believe the rush. It was a shot of adrenaline he had never experienced before. Sonny became hooked, a junkie.

“I jumped many times after that. I got high off the opportunity to get high,” Sonny says laughing.

For three years, Sonny was active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division. He later trained in long-range surveillance with the Nebraska National Guard for 25 years until he retired as an E8 master sergeant. After the Army, he attended college to become a car mechanic. At an Omaha Royals game, Sonny saw a group of skydivers jump and realized he missed the excitement. Soon after, he became involved with the Omaha Skydivers for two years. When the group disbanded, Sonny joined the Lincoln Sport Parachute Club in 1979. He earned experience in tandem, demonstration, and static line jumping. Plus, Sonny gained an entire new family that loved leaping from planes as much as he did.

On the side, Sonny still taught skydiving ground classes at home every Friday and Saturday night. He used his then-3-year-old son, Travis, to show students the perfect arch. Sonny would hold Travis in the palms of his hands, throw him up, and have him assume the position. Travis and his sister, Toni, would jump off the coffee table to demonstrate a tuck-and-roll.

Toni made about 20 jumps before she discovered boys, but Travis was born to rock the airwaves.

“I was more nervous handing him a set of car keys than handing him a parachute,” Sonny recalls.

Travis, then 16, had the wildest nightmares before his big tandem.

“There is nothing natural about launching yourself from an airplane. Don’t do skydiving if it doesn’t make you nervous,” Travis says. “It has to have that fear factor. You are not shying away from fears, but embracing it.”

Travis dived his first tandem when he was just 16, following with a solo when he turned 21. Travis, a U.S. postal worker, became a static line instructor on the side.

“That’s what I do for money, but skydiving is what I do for a living,” he says.

Travis watched his father, a professional exhibition-rated skydiver, when he participated in numerous ground crews. His dream was to do a demonstration jump with his father. Travis had his chance two years ago, after receiving his own PRO rating from the U.S. Parachute Association. Both would jump into TD Ameritrade for a military tribute event.

“Are you ready?” Sonny asked his son.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life,” Travis remembers replying. He now has 750 jumps to his credit, plus a PRO exhibition rating and a D license like his father.

In addition, Travis and his father compete in skydiving events such as sports or zone accuracy. Sports accuracy is almost like a human dartboard. The person who lands closest to the bulls-eye wins.

“It’s like hitting the top of this coffee cup with your foot,” Sonny says.

Sonny, a 10-year accuracy champion, has had a two-year dry spell. The gold medal at the Cornhusker Games this year went to his son, but at least the tradition continued in the family. Travis now aspires to compete on the national level and is training to get his tandem license. Sonny is working on an instructor rating for scuba diving.

But it is obvious that both love their monthly meetings and weekend jumps with the club. The Lincoln Sport Parachute Club skydivers, 60 strong and welcoming of new members, love seeing other people safely enjoy skydiving and the friendships that come with it. Sonny bursts out laughing remembering one woman’s enthusiasm. She waved and even kissed the cameraman. After 30 seconds of freefall, the chute opened up, and she said, “I think I just had an airgasm.”

It can be expensive. For example, a tandem will run someone $250. Add a video, and it can run an additional $125. But join the club, and a dive will only run about $20. (Annual dues cost $125. Members are also required to belong to the U.S. Parachute Association and have made at least five jumps.)

Travis slides the door of the plane open with a grin as he, along with his father, crawls out on the ledge. A blast of frigid 100-plus mph wind rushes into the compact area. Hladik throws me on his lap and pushes me toward the edge.

With my legs hanging over the side, I have second thoughts. Hladik rocks twice…and just like that, we dive.

I could explain the absolute cool and chaotic insanity of the free fall, the hushed beautiful stillness of the canopy, or the relief of softly hitting the ground. But, like Sonny says, come out and experience it for yourself.


Visit skydivelspc.com for more information about the Lincoln Sport Parachute Club.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

From left: pilot Rick Buesing, Greg Hladik, Kenneth “Sonny” Bader, and Lisa Lukecart

The Origins of the Nebraska National Guard

May 15, 2017 by
Photography by contributed by Nebraska National Guard

Wanderings of a lame cow set in motion forces that led to the establishment of the Nebraska National Guard.

“It started when President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, creating the Nebraska Territory and opening the frontier to settlers. That summer, an ill-fated bovine wandered from a Utah-bound Mormon wagon train into a large Sioux camp southeast of Fort Laramie (at the time located within Nebraska Territory, now Wyoming), where it was subsequently killed and eaten by young tribesmen. Demanding the arrest of those responsible, the Mormons reported the incident to Lt. John Grattan, the inexperienced leader of Fort Laramie’s U.S. infantry regiment.

Chief Conquering Bear (Brulé Lakota) refused to surrender the young men who had killed the cow, explaining they had done nothing wrong; the cow had voluntarily entered their camp, and, besides, the supposedly guilty men were visitors belonging to another band of Lakota, the Miniconjou. Grattan’s regiment opened fire and mortally wounded Conquering Bear; however, the infantry proved no match for the Brulé warriors, who completely annihilated the military detachment, killing Grattan and his 29 men. Author Douglas Hartman explains the anecdote in his book, Nebraska’s Militia: The History of the Army and Air National Guard.

The “Grattan Massacre” (aka “the Mormon Cow War”)—and the federal government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises—incited bands of Sioux to continue terrorizing settlers on the Mormon and Oregon trails. To augment federal troops, on Dec. 23, 1854, acting Gov. Thomas Cuming issued a proclamation creating the Nebraska Territorial Militia, which later became the National Guard.

The proclamation recommended “the citizens of the territory organize, in their respective neighborhoods, into volunteer companies,” which were grouped into two regiments: one north of the Platte River and one south. Cuming further instructed, “Companies are not to use force in invading or pursuing hostile tribes, but only in self-defense, and then no longer than necessary.”

Funding did not exist, however, so the early militiamen were expected to provide their own arms and equipment. By spring 1855, the state’s first organized units were formed: the Fontanelle Rifles in the town of Fontanelle, some 40 miles north of Omaha, and the Otoe Rifles in Nebraska City. Nebraska Gov. Mark Izard ordered the Rifles to protect Fontanelle, Elkhorn City, and Tekamah after “the Sioux” killed two area settlers. The Indians were nowhere to be found when the militia arrived, so troops spent the summer catching large-channel catfish from the Elkhorn River while “protecting” settlers. This became known as the “Catfish War,” writes Hartman.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Nebraska militias became more involved in fighting against tribes, since most of the nation’s federal military was consumed by the war, says Jerry Meyer, historian for the Nebraska National Guard. Additionally, two Nebraska volunteer militia units fought for the Union in the Southeast.

When Nebraska achieved statehood March 1, 1867, it joined a nation in transition. With the war over, potential recruits had little interest in joining formal militia units, which the new state couldn’t afford to equip anyway.

Nebraska relied on loosely organized, independent militias until 1881, when legislation reorganized them into the Nebraska National Guard, increasing its role as a peacekeeper during times of civil unrest, settling conflicts with Native American tribes, and deploying the first Nebraska troops internationally for the Spanish-American War.

The Nebraska Militia of 1854-1867 wrote the opening chapters of an ongoing legacy of service to the nation, state, and communities. The tradition continues with today’s modern Nebraska Army and Air National Guard, says Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes, spokesman for the Guard’s Public Affairs office.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 10,000 Nebraska National guardsmen and airmen have supported missions overseas and within the United States. When not on federal active duty, the service members remain in Nebraska, available to local authorities during emergency situations.

The Guard was instrumental in protecting Omaha and other Nebraska communities, for example, during the 2011 Missouri River flood, which threatened Eppley Airfield and OPPD power plants. The summer-long flood closed numerous traffic bridges, making it impossible to cross the river for more than 100 miles between Sioux City and Omaha, and between Omaha and Kansas City. Hynes says guardsmen provided surveillance and bolstered levees, and they also provided security for evacuated homeowners.

Currently, the Nebraska Army National Guard is undergoing its largest force restructuring in 20 years. Affecting about 1,100 Nebraska soldiers–or roughly one in three–the changes are bringing in new military occupational specialties, such as engineering and military police.

The realignment will provide current soldiers and those interested in joining with better opportunities for personal and professional growth, from the time they enlist until the time they retire, without having to travel extensively from their hometown communities.

The Nebraska National Guard Museum, located in Seward, Nebraska, is a prime resource for National Guard history, research, and local entertainment. Visit nengm.org for more information about the museum.

Famous Omaha Guardsmen

Warren Buffett

Long before becoming the “Oracle of Omaha,” he was simply Corporal Buffett, enlisting with the Nebraska Army National Guard in 1951 after graduating from Columbia University. The future Berkshire Hathaway founder served six years as a pay specialist, telling the Prairie Soldier newspaper that his financial background probably had something to do with the assignment. One of about 70 members of the Omaha-based 34th Infantry Division Headquarters Company, Buffett told the newspaper of the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard that his fellow guardsmen were “as good of a group of guys that you could’ve found.”

Andrew Jackson Higgins

Expelled his senior year from Omaha’s Creighton Prep for brawling in the early 1900s, Higgins later was praised by President Dwight Eisenhower as the man who won World War II. He designed and built the “Higgins Boat,” a landing craft that unloaded troops across open beaches instead of at heavily guarded ports. This Allied attack strategy was pivotal to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Higgins served in the Nebraska Army National Guard, attaining the rank of first lieutenant, and learned about boat building and moving troops over water during militia maneuvers on the Platte River. A historical marker honors him in Columbus, Nebraska.

Visit ne.ng.mil to learn more about the Nebraska National Guard.

This article printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Celebrating Omaha’s World War II Veterans

April 25, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs, Headshot by Bill Sitzmann

As a kid, my grandfather’s World War II experiences were the stuff of legend.

Army private first-class Robert Wesley Meigs fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He crossed the Remagen Bridge and survived a German artillery blast. The explosion killed two of his fellow infantrymen, and the shrapnel remains in his arm to this day. As Allied forces marched onward—and he got out of the hospital—Grandpa returned to the front. He even helped to liberate a concentration camp; he remembers how the starving victims scattered across the countryside when U.S. troops opened the gates.

But he didn’t talk about the war with us grandkids. A case full of his medals—including a Purple Heart—remained tucked away, out of view. Our father told brief anecdotes, but the stories were incomplete. And we were scared to ask for more details.

Then one day, during my undergraduate studies, a military history class gave me an opportunity to sit down with my grandfather. A class project was my excuse to pry into his role in the Greatest Generation’s fight against global fascism.

A transcript from the 2005 interview is now collected by the Library of Congress Folklife Center’s Veterans History Project, and an edited version is posted on Omaha Magazine’s website, here.

Today, Grandpa is 94 years old. I am still learning from him—about life in general, and about his time in World War II. But the stories and perspectives of his generation are becoming increasingly scarce with the passage of time.

One Veterans Day not long ago, I thanked Grandpa for being a hero. He corrected me. “The real heroes never made it home,” he said with a stern face.

In the fall of 2016, he moved from Nebraska to Idaho to live closer to my uncles after my grandmother had passed. Before leaving town, he shared an unexpected anecdote: “Did I ever tell you about the time I was peed on?” Grandpa said, laughing, as he recalled another soldier’s “misfire” in the crowded foxhole. It was a crude awakening after he finally managed to catch a moment of sleep between German artillery bombardments.

The stories of World War II and the experiences of veterans are as diverse as the Americans who contributed to the war effort. Omaha Magazine’s May/June issue celebrates Omaha’s veterans of World War II with a multi-part story package. The issue’s publication coincides with the 73rd anniversary of D-Day and the Allied storming of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Omaha Beach—one of five Normandy beachheads—is synonymous with America’s entry into the war. My grandfather did not participate in the invasion. But the entire nation would soon know the infamous codename of D-Day’s bloodiest beachhead. The city of Omaha eventually became his home. His children graduated from local high schools. My father met my Nebraska-raised mother in Omaha, and the rest is history.

Our May/June issue is especially rich with local history stories. Higgins Boats (boats utilized in D-Day beach landings) were actually invented by a man who grew up in Omaha. After Andrew Higgins’ expulsion from Creighton Prep High School, he joined the Nebraska National Guard.

The Omaha metro remains home to many World War II veterans. Several of their stories (excerpted in this issue) are captured in a new book by Joyce Winfield, a retired Midland University professor of journalism. Leah Meyer, the interim director of UNO’s Office of Military and Veteran Services, explains how others can contribute their own veteran interviews to the Library of Congress.

But there are many ways Omahans continue to celebrate the lives of World War II vets—evident in the work of two local filmmakers. Ben Drickey followed his grandfather on a trip to Germany, revisiting his time in the war. The film project kickstarted Drickey’s career in film production. Meanwhile, there is the story of Shawn Schmidt’s 48 Stars, a film that tells the stories of World War II veterans in their own words. Schmidt’s father fought in World War II, but the son never had a chance to document his story. Now, he is making up for lost time while there’s still time with other World War II vets.

Omaha Magazine salutes the veterans of World War II, and all of the men and women who have put their lives on the line for America. We hope you enjoy the issue!

This letter appeared in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.

Doug Meigs is the executive editor of Omaha Publications.