Lance Corp. Dillon Nieuwsma experiences Afghanistan war as a United States Marine
“I was at my friend’s home when Dillon showed up and said there is someone I needed to meet,” Sandy Nieuwsma of Strasburg remembers.
Sandy and Duane Nieuwsma of rural Strasburg are the parents of Lance Corporal Dillon Nieuwsma, who joined the United States Marine Corps in 2010.
Nieuwsma graduated from Strasburg High School in 2011, and he said he always had an interest in joining the Armed Forces.
“When I attended a job career fair, I was really thinking about being a pilot in the Air Force,” Nieuwsma said. “But, I was not qualified to be a pilot.”
Prior to entering his senior year in high school, Nieuwsma attended the Marine Infantry, the central component of Marine ground forces, from September of 2010 throughAugust of 2011.
Nieuwsma finished Marine Boot Camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif., in October of 2011. He then attended Infantry Training School at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. from November 2011 through January 2012.
On Jan. 24, 2012, Nieuwsma joined the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, a light infantry battalion of the Marine Corps. Based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, they consist of approximately 800 marines and sailors. The battalion falls under the command of the 7th Marine Regiment and the 1st Marine Division.
Nieuwsma attended training from January through September of 2012, preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. His unit arrived at Helmand Province on Sept. 19 and were there through April 5, 2013.
Infantrymen are trained to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat. Riflemen serve as the primary scouts, assault troops and close combat forces within each infantry unit.
“We are trained to fight wars by attacking, defending and standing guard,” Nieuwsma said.
Their unit has three main missions—force protection (friendly force), Afghanistan development and providing strike packages (gathering intelligence information) for the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).
Their mission includes going into areas and towns to clear them out and stand post to protect everyone inside the base and assisting the ANA, enabling them to fight for themselves so they do not always have to rely on the U.S. Armed Forces.
“Our three squads had five rotations, and we stood on post for a period of eight to 10 hours a day,” Nieuwsma said. “That is tiring, especially during the hot summer season with all our gear.”
During operations week, the unit helps out on base by cleaning up, stacking food, counting ammunition and taking care of daily necessities.
The living quarters, Nieuwsma said, are crowded, but he doesn’t mind.
“It’s kinda’ fun and enjoyable. Sometimes we sleep outdoors under the stars,” he said.
Nieuwsma said they mostly stay on base, so they do not witness a lot of the culture in Afghanistan, but he recognizes it is completely different than in the U.S.
He added that many seem very kind, but you do not know who to trust, “so you just be polite and professional” as a Marine should be.
Nieuwsma said he never saw a public school, but he did see kids with their backpacks, and they told him in English that they go to school.
Homes are made of sod, and the water supply comes from rivers and streams. Residents are employed in farming and at farmer markets. Common foods are rice, potatoes, bread and goat meat.
While Nieuwsma realizes the Marines may not be for everyone, he loves being a Marine.
“I love my job, and I would do it again in a heartbeat!” he said.
For some, though, just the weight of a full uniform may be something that not everyone could handle.
“I weigh 250 pounds with my full gear,” Nieuwsma said.
Nieuwsma advises those who are interested in joining the military to be aware that you really need to focus on your work as bad things can happen to you and many others if you do not.
Nieuwsma said you meet so many people and gain a whole new family—the Marine family.
“I have a whole different view on life, and it’s like looking through a whole different lens,” he said.
His parents are very proud of him.
“It is his decision, and I am very proud of him, but it is hard to let go,” Sandy said. “As moms, are we ever ready to let go?”
Sharing his parents’ pride are his Grandpa Jerry Vetter, Sandy’s dad, who grew up in the Linton area. Vetter was a Specialist 5 with the North DakotaArmy National Guard from 1963 to 1969.
Nieuwsma was on post deployment leave from April 20 through May 4. On May 5, he departed for Twentynine Palms, Calif., where he will serve until his four years are up on July 31, 2015. He has not yet decided if he will stay in the Marines.
A message for people back home, Nieuwsma offered, “We sure appreciate support from back home, feeling that people care about us and appreciate what we do serving our country.”