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South Dakota

Local men have a drive for service, transporting local veterans for health care

Local men have an urge for service, transporting local veterans for health care

Kenneth Eckland of Scottsbluff retired in 2014. Always planning to volunteer after retirement, he’s certainly one of three drivers for the DAV program, which transports veterans to Department of Veterans Affairs amenities in Hot Springs, South Dakota and in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Photos by MAUNETTE LOEKS, Star Herald

Two local men continued serving veterans lengthy after their army service. Roger Meisner and Kenneth Eckland have pushed hundreds of miles to move space veterans to Department of Veterans Affair appointments in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Hot Springs, South Dakota. Both men are drivers for Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a nonprofit group that gives companies to veterans, together with transportation to medical appointments.

Meisner served within the US Army National Guard from 1956 to 1959 earlier than transferring to the Army Reserve.

“It was a six-year commitment at the time,” he mentioned of becoming a member of the ministry. He was by no means deployed abroad however served within the Gering National Guard, a tank firm that was a part of the thirty fourth Infantry Division. Meisner estimated that round 100 men have been serving in his firm on the time.

Local men have an urge for service, transporting local veterans for health care

Roger Meisner has been driving veterans to the Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming for almost 20 years. A veteran himself, he mentioned he met some good men throughout the journeys and that it met a want for those that wanted transportation to appointments.


During his time within the reserves, he served with a unit in Kansas. “I don’t know why they placed me company-based in Kansas,” he mentioned. “But that’s exactly what they did.”

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At the time he enlisted, Meisner and several other different classmates have been enlisting as troopers within the armed forces. Soldiers are wanted to fill the ranks, he mentioned, however it’s principally peacetime.

After his service, Meisner labored within the sugar manufacturing facility for 34 years. He served in varied capacities and retired as a foreman. During his profession he labored on the Scottsbluff, Mitchell and Bayard sugar mills.

It was solely after his retirement that he entered the DAV driving sport.

“I was looking for something to kill time,” he mentioned, saying he was recruited once more, this time by former Veterans Service Officer John Brehm. He will quickly be 20 years outdated having been driving since December 2002.

Eckland enlisted within the military in 1974 after a belated draft. He served for three years as a truck driver, “64 Charlie” as they referred to as it, with coaching at Fort Ord, a US Army put up in California. He was then assigned to a area artillery unit, hauling ammunition after which driving the battery commander and first sergeant.

He additionally served as a area observer with the sector battery unit, explaining that the battery unit consists of six howitzers, or long-range weapons, and that observers would go into the sector and decide targets for these firing the weapons.

During his service, his unit had been assigned to a unit deployed to Germany, however with solely a few months into his enlistment, he was as a substitute transferred and serving as a clerk.

Like many veterans, Eckland had a household that had additionally served within the armed forces. His father had served within the Navy, however a cousin, Eugene Snyder, had served within the Army.

“He went into the army and I used to look up to him as a kid… And that’s why I chose the army,” he mentioned. “And I really enjoyed my time in the army.”

After serving within the Army, Eckland served 4 years within the Nebraska National Guard. He served in Chadron, a area artillery unit on the time. He shared that he had an surprising motivation to proceed serving within the National Guard.

“I only joined the Guards because I wanted to buy a dirt bike,” he says with a giggle. “I looked at this dirt bike, I knew what it would cost and I wanted to rent it for a year. I figured what the National Guard would pay me each month would be enough to pay for the dirt bike. So that’s what I did.”

He would have stayed longer within the National Guard, he mentioned, if he hadn’t moved to Hastings, Nebraska. He felt that he was unable to proceed the duties of his job due to the affect on his colleagues from his absences for coaching.

Eckland labored for the Nebraska Public Power District in a number of positions for 36 years—most just lately as a senior substation technician at Scottsbluff—earlier than retiring in 2014. He has additionally helped his father-in-law together with his farm.

“I just wanted to volunteer. I just knew I wanted to do that when I reached a certain age,” he mentioned, saying he wished to proceed working, albeit on a volunteer foundation. His mother and father each volunteered on the hospital, he mentioned, and he feels he inherited that dedication to serve from them.

Besides volunteering, he additionally hopes to trip bikes and restore different bikes he has in his assortment.

“I hope that one day I can still do that. One of the things I didn’t take into account is that you need money to do it,” he said jokingly.

Like Meisner, however, Eckland said driving for the DAV is an opportunity that gives him flexibility while also fulfilling his desire to get involved.

Meisner and Eckland both noted that the frequency of DAV trips has declined, particularly since the pandemic.

“I used to go to Cheyenne every week,” said Meisner, who only drives patients to the Cheyenne VA facility. “And once I started driving, they sent a van every day. Now it only goes once a week and that is when you have a passenger.”

During the pandemic, he said, the DAV has limited the number of passengers to one, although the van can carry up to eight passengers. These actions continued, allowing veterans to obtain services from providers within the community closer to where they live.

“Lots of people simply discovered one other method,” Meisner said, noting that community-level care is a good option for some, depending on their needs.

Eckland, who drives patients to facilities in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Hot Springs, South Dakota, said, “We have a lot of fine medical doctors right here, however these guys actually worth their VA medical doctors. It’s a totally different expertise in a VA facility.”

Often, Meisner mentioned, veterans inform their tales.

“I met a lot of good people that I might not have met otherwise,” he mentioned.

Veterans can contact the Scotts Bluff County Veterans Service Office, 308-436-6643, for extra details about the DAV van and different companies supplied.

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