Growing up, Jon Ceplecha of Redwood Falls heard the message from his parents loud and clear.
“They told me it was my duty to serve my country in some way,” Ceplecha said.
He took that advice to heart May 22, 1984 when he enlisted in the Army.
Ceplecha spent the next 28 years serving his country as a member of the military, and over that career spanning nearly three decades he saw, learned and did a lot of things – good and bad.
Ceplecha who grew up in Redwood Falls considered his service a privilege.
Ceplecha, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, said he would gladly serve his country again if he was called, and while there were certainly challenges along the way he really considers his military service to be a positive experience.
Ceplecha’s military career spanned a unique time in the history of the U.S., as he began his time during the Cold War when the country was facing the Soviet Union.
The military strategy of that time was based on what was known as the AirLand Battle doctrine, which Ceplecha said was a response to military leaders creating a plan that would ensure the nation was ready for a Soviet attack.
When the Soviet threat came to an end, Ceplecha said the nation entered what he called a time that began to rot the American soul.
Cancers on the military began to enter into the philosophy Ceplecha said were not in the best interest of the military. Those cancers, he said, included the advent of military driven civilian contracts, which he said changed war into a profit making venture.
He also said what he called the unionization of the military which changed the role of those serving form doing their mission to doing a job.
“The military is nothing like a job,” said Ceplecha. “When I joined the military I joined as a volunteer, and as a volunteer I gave up some of my freedoms. It was a privilege for me to do that for you and this country.”
As an officer, Ceplecha said a change in philosophy also meant much more time was being spent on the administrative side of the military. While the initial intent was to spend more time actually working on the mission and less time working on administrative duties, that flipped to the detriment of the military as a whole, said Ceplecha.
Changes began to take place in the late 90s, said Ceplecha, and those changes were what helped the nation as it began its mission in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Ceplecha said that strategy was key, as the nation would have been ready to fight the Soviets in 2001 rather than the new enemy it faced in the Middle East.
Page 2 of 2 - Ceplecha said the fight in the Middle East was not against Islam but against Islamists who he said perverted the tenets of the religion.
Ceplecha got on a plane with his fellow soldiers heading for the Middle East in 2003, and he served much of his time there is a purchasing officer. That role, he said, meant establishing a relationship with Iraqis who could help him “get things” for the soldiers, wheth-er that was a hammer or a roll of toilet paper.
As part of that role, Ceplecha helped rebuild Camp Anaconda, which he said was a glorified air force base when they arrived.
Although Ceplecha was not on the front line, he said the danger still existed, as the camp was constantly attacked by mortar rounds.
“At first we would run when they came in,” he said, adding after a while you sat and watched them.
Ceplecha added there were tense times, especially as the camp was being built, as the enemy gained access and would come in at night and kill soldiers in their sleep. Ceplecha said he had friends who were killed in Iraq, and said even today he hates going to sleep and waking up in the morning because of the unknowns soldiers faced during their time in Iraq.
One of Ceplecha’s proudest moments in life came in Iraq when he was able through his role to acquire school supplies which were donated to the Iraqi children so they would have what they needed at school.
As he neared retirement, Ceplecha, who was a teacher in Minneapolis for a number of years, spent time training other officers as they climbed the ladder.
Although Ceplecha said there are certainly issues that exist within the U.S. military today, the reality is this nation still offers the best available in the world.
“We are the real last hope for the world,” he said.
Ceplecha is like many soldiers who carry what he called burdens, and even though his are not physical the mental ones are just as troubling for the soldier.
Ceplecha said he is not looking for accolades for his time in the service. He said what any soldier wants is a pat on the back now and then from a nation demonstrating its appreciation.
“That simple gesture means the world to the average soldier,” said Ceplecha.