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Veterans tell their stories at Veterans Story Night

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By Managing Editor Teri L. Hansen

On Nov. 19 the McPherson American Legion Post 24 once again provided a venue for local heroes to tell their stories. This time two of McPherson’s finest…law enforcement that is, told their stories about before they became one of the “boys in blue.” Both prior service military, they spoke of their journeys through the ranks.

“I want to do that!”

While many know Jerry Montagne as the McPherson county sheriff. Once upon a time he wore a different uniform. He was in the Air Force. He wasn’t too far off of his current career though as he served as security police.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I always wanted to be a policeman,” Montagne said. “I prayed to God ‘please give me that job.’ You might say I’m living the dream now, because I’m here.”

So, while law enforcement was definitely, as time would tell, the place for him, he also wanted the military experience. He was actually set to join the Army Reserves, but as fate would have it, the Air Force called and offered a tour of the base in Sioux City, Iowa. At the gate an armed security official stood guard. A beret on his head and his rifle at the ready, this guard was the embodiment of what Montagne wanted to be.

“I said, ‘I want to do that,’” he explained.

And so that is what he did. He went to basic as well as technical training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and found himself in what is now, the largest career field in the Air Force. Responsible for missile security, base defense world-wide, and law enforcement to include military dogs and combat arms; security forces have plenty to do, though it was a little different when Montagne joined.

“When I actually went into the security police females could not be in security police, they could only be LE which stood for law enforcement, so we were separate in that aspect,” Montagne explained. “Now when I got out in 1987 women were allowed to be in what is called security forces, but back then it was security police and LE.”

In 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland Islands in an effort to “recover” the territory lost decades prior. The thought was that it would garner support from Argentina citizens who had recently shown dislike and distrust for their government. The initial push in was a success. British marines were captures and despite losses to their own Argentinian force, they inflicted no harm upon the British.

It was during this time that Montagne’s base was activated. The 190th Air Refueling Wing was intended to provide support to the British in what would become known as the Falkland War, though it is unofficial and last a few months. In fact, by the time Montagne’s unit was ready to go, it was over. In the end the British captured around 11,400 Argentine prisoners, all of whom were released afterward. Argentina announced that about 650 lives had been lost.

Montagne has a claim to fame in having met George W. Bush. At the time Ronald Reagan was president and they were visiting Topeka. Around 20 men volunteered to guard Bush’s plane and Montagne was one of three able to pass the background check. In addition to meeting the future president and first lady, he brought home a souvenir book of matches that says, “Welcome aboard Air Force II.”

“It’s probably one of the highlights of my life,” Montagne said.

Montagne’s ability to lead and know where he wanted to be in life, came largely from his father. They share the same name and the same legacy of good deeds and service. The elder also served in the Armed Forces. He was in the Army in World War II.

“He’s kind of my hero and inspired me,” Montagne said. “I’m very proud of my dad I miss him a lot.”

In memory and reverence, Montagne wears his father’s dog tag right next to his own. The same name imprinted on the same symbol of service from different conflicts and eras.

“You all are dumb, and I don’t want to be here anymore!”

From southern California born and raised, Joey Ruppert is better known in the area as Officer Ruppert. He is the school resource officer at McPherson High School. Prior to being known by that title, he has been called Marine, sergeant, staff sergeant and even drill sergeant.

“I joined the Marine corps in 1988. I’m a Hollywood Marine,” Ruppert explained. “The only reason I went into the Marine Corps is because I was a short little guy. I weighed about 120 pounds going into boot camp and everyone was telling me I couldn’t do it. So that was my motivation to go in.”

Ruppert’s military story took him all over the world. From Camp Pendleton, California, to the Philippines, to Okinawa, to Panama and eventually to Afghanistan. Though after it was all said and done, he and his family ended up in Kansas when he left the military.

Many years were spent in Camp Pendleton, but eventually he was sent to Fort Sherman, Panama. It was here that he attended the Jungle Operations Training Center.

“I learned a great deal of respect for our Vietnam veterans,” Ruppert said. “Learning about jungle warfare and all the stuff that they went through.”

It was also here that he was part of a group selected to perform reconnaissance for the Army against Panamanian Defense Forces. It was during the time that U.S. forces engaged in what was considered one of the largest military actions since Vietnam. It was the ousting of President Manuel Noriega. Often playing both sides, Noriega was a sometimes ally and enemy of America.

Ruppert found himself on a hill overlooking Panamanian forces who knew exactly what they were doing, as they were doing the same.

“We were told that if they cross the railroad tracks, we could light them up and if we crossed the railroad tracks, they could light us up,” he said.

In the end, nothing much happened but a lot of watching, waiting and few less than kind gestures and words being exchanged between the rival forces.

In Korea, Ruppert took part in the global security exercise known as Team Spirit. Usually held in March, the joint exercise was designed to improve relations and interoperability between the Republic of Korea Army and the U.S. It also had the added benefit of intimidation. The hope was to deter North Korean provocations. The last Team Spirit was held in 1993.

After turning in all their gear and settling in at home, Ruppert and his men learned of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. There was no rest to be had for the weary.

“We didn’t think we were going to get called up to deploy and sure enough we got home, and we were put on standby,” Ruppert said. “We got reissued all of our gear and in November we started making our move to San Diego to get on our ships to go to Desert Storm.”

While there he spent a lot of time in a lot of different places from Dubai to Yemen. The mission for him was decoy operations. Make Hussein focus on the forces where he was, so that he wasn’t watching the ones coming in through Saudi Arabia.

“We didn’t see a whole lot of contact in Desert Storm just a couple sniper fires,” Ruppert said.

Discharged in 1992, Ruppert just couldn’t stay away. His break from service wasn’t going quite as anticipated.

“I thought I could rule the world, but the world ruled me,” Ruppert said.

He re-enlisted six years later, though this time he joined the Army. He went to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training with the promise from the recruiter that it would be the “hardest basic training.” Ruppert was not impressed.

“After three weeks of being in Army basic training I told the drill sergeant ‘This is stupid, you all are dumb and I don’t want to be here anymore,’” he said.

But just saying you don’t want to do something doesn’t generally work out in the military, so he finished out the training and, in the end, the Army wasn’t half-bad to the Marine turned Soldier. In fact, he did eventually become and Army drill sergeant.

Before that in 2006 he headed back to the Middle East, this time to Afghanistan. He was route clearance at the time and dealt with Improvised Explosive Devices, mortars and suicide bombers.

“Basically, we went looking for those little things that are buried in the ground closing our eyes and tapping our toes we’d wait to see if it would go off,” Ruppert said.

Eventually he came home and left the service for another kind. He joined law enforcement and eventually through persuasion from Montagne came to the McPherson area. He serves as the school resource officer at USD 418. This position is filled by someone who has been specially selected for the role, to provide security for the school.

“It’s all about the kids. It’s not about the school district or the principal,” Ruppert said. “It’s all about taking care of the kids.”

He does not enforce school policy or reprimand for rule infraction. He doesn’t track down truants or beat up bullies. He job is actually far harder.

“I’m there to build relationships and I’m there to try to change their mind and outlook on law enforcement as they look at it today,” he said.

Veteran Story Night is held at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday at the McPherson American Legion, 401 N. Main St. The public is invited to attend. A social hour occurs at 6 p.m. prior to the presentation with two free beverages and a free meal for veterans. This week the meal and drinks were sponsored by Johnnie and Amber Brown at 365 Sports Complex Training Facility and Venue in Inman, Susan and Mike McVicker at Sew N Sew, Dan and Sue Hervey, and Terry and Janice Lacy.

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