Freedom isn’t free

Dawn Rye | Writer

The United States witnessed war on its doorstep on American soil most recently with terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. American’s engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq followed the attack on the World Trade Center and will be remembered as 9-11. Since 1973, 1.29 million men and women have joined the military with the understanding it would be a life-altering decision. They wanted to serve their county and strive to be a part of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard.

At the age of 18-years-old, local, retired Afghanistan veteran Angela Cuka enlisted into the National Guard and attended basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training). It is at AIT where soldiers learn the skills to perform their specific job with the Army. She came home for six months before volunteering for deployment to Afghanistan. After her training with a different unit in 2010, she was deployed. Cuka explained her job was to operate logistics, working with suppliers and filling needs. She was also part of keeping in contact with local national contractors. During her year in Afghanistan, about six months in, she recalled Veteran’s Day was her last as a “normal person” because of the IED (improvised explosive devise) explosion she was part of on Nov. 12. She explained the day was weird; they were in a three-vehicle convoy and a van came between her vehicle and the leading convoy vehicle and detonated. Cuka said some soldiers received shrapnel wounds, broken wrists and some TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), along with concussions. She explained they were at an outlying base where the medical attention was not the best. If a soldier could recite three words, they were released back to work. Cuka noted after she was cleared she went back to work, but after several weeks her fellow soldiers and she noticed something was not right. Her only options were to tough it out or get flown to Germany. She decided she was going to tough it out and stayed six more months before a doctor noticed her health issues and sent her home.

Cuka said she always thought she was a lifer in the Guards. She spent seven years in the South Dakota National Guard before being discharged in 2015 and moving to Parker with her husband Dave.

Today, she fills out a medicine planner every month and takes 10 medications. She noted it’s not the greatest circumstances but she is alive, she can do things and she can watch her children grow.

She said she was a sixth-grader when 9-11 happened. She noted that the generation today has not seen a war on their doorstep and doesn’t have that sense of pride waking up every morning to freedom.

Cuka said she still doesn’t think of Veterans Day as her holiday. She explained she spends Veterans Day trying to make sure the past war veterans are being appreciated and remembered.

 “They are the backbone that is keeping us together,” noted Cuka.

During last year’s veterans’ breakfast, it was fun to hear the stories she said. Cuka noted she doesn’t take them for granted.

“I love to just listen,” commented Cuka.

She explained in March 2016 she attended her first legion meeting in Parker to become more involved in the local community. She said she spent one year as the admin and one more year as the Commander. From there, Cuka decided to take a break. She noted this year, the Parker Legion is up and running with her as the Commander once more. Currently, the legion has 15 active members and is always looking to help more local veterans in the community.

“I feel like we have the youngest group that the legion has seen in a long time, which is awesome,” said Cuka with a smile.

She explained she has no idea how she is bringing the young members in but she hopes it will continue. Since Parker native Jodie Friman moved back, the duo have been busy making sure the Parker American Legion is meeting the needs of the local veterans.

In an attempt to do just that, the Parker American Legion will be hosting a VFW Legion Veterans Day supper on Monday, Nov. 11. The soup and sandwich event will run from 5:30-7 p.m. and will be held at the Parker Community Building. The free-will donation meal is open to the public and everyone is invited to attend.

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