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Minnesota Guardsman overcomes severe injury with positive attitude, hard work
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn- A little more than a year after Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Houdek was severely injured in a farming accident near his Little Falls, Minn, home, he is back to work with the Minnesota National Guard and adapting to life with a prosthetic
"When I came out of the first surgery, they were telling me that they were hoping that within a year I would be able to hold a pen," said Houdek "Since then I've come a lot further, a lot more than what they had thought"
On Nov 12, 2013, Houdek took a day off from his full-time job as a wage leader at Camp Ripley's Consolidated Maintenance Activity - South to harvest corn on his 60-acre hobby farm Halfway through, he stopped to check on his machinery, leaving the tractor running When he went to clear some corn out of the husking bin of the picker, his right arm was pulled into the shaft As he was trying to pull his right hand out, his left hand got caught in another shaft, trapping both his arms in the machine
After some time, Houdek was able to free his right arm by separating his hand from his arm He was also able to use his foot to stop his left arm from being pulled any further into the machine With a road behind him, he kept pressure on his wounds and tried to stay conscious until a neighbor drove by, saw him and came to see if he needed help
"From the time I left my house until the time that my neighbor called and found me was over an hour that I was in the field trapped in the corn picker by myself," said Houdek
During that time, Houdek did his best to stay calm and use the training he received in the military to stay alive for his wife, Lisa, and their three daughters He walked his neighbor through the steps to apply a tourniquet on both his arms using string from the hoods of their jackets He was transported by ambulance to Little Falls and airlifted from Little Falls to North Memorial Medical Center in Minneapolis where a team of doctors prepared him for surgery
"At that point, I said, I don't care about my hand, just keep me alive for my wife and kids," Houdek remembers
At the hospital, the doctors told him they wouldn't be able save his right hand due to the risk of infection They questioned how much function he would have in his left arm which had sustained over nine breaks below the elbow and extensive nerve damage
"They actually told me that if my right hand wasn't amputated, they were going to amputate my left hand," said Houdek "But since they couldn't save my right hand, they did what they could to save my left"
Houdek credits his military training for helping him to stay calm and respond to the situation
"In the course of an hour, I was highs and lows, I went up and down the whole emotional roller coaster," said Houdek "I honestly think that if it wasn't for the military training that I had - walking him through the tourniquet, trying to stay calm and focused when there's a lot of stuff going on - panicking isn't going to help at all I think I stayed calm the majority of the time, I was trying to do all I could to save myself"
The months after the accident Houdek says were difficult both physically and emotionally After three months he started healing more, was fitted for a prosthetic and started to brighten up a little bit It was then that he began to focus on getting back to work
"[I thought] I can work with this I'm still here; life goes on; I'll make the best of it and do what I have to do," said Houdek "Let's get therapy done and get back to work and get back to the Guard"
Last May, just six months after the accident, Houdek attended weapons qualification with his unit and qualified expert on the M16 using his left hand He initially came back to work on light duty, but is now off light duty and back to fixing things in the shop
In addition to support from his superiors and co-workers, Houdek has received tremendous support from his family, friends and the local community throughout his recovery process
"My wife is awesome and completely understanding and accepting," said Houdek "We just said, 'We'll get through it and figure it out because life goes on' We might think we're in charge but we're not"
"I'm lucky and I'm a firm believer that I wasn't in that field alone," said Houdek "I might have physically been the only person there, but I wasn't alone Throughout life too, the good Lord is watching over us and he challenges us in different ways"
March 4, 2015 by Master Sgt Blair Heusdens
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs
Posted: 2017-03-24 10:19 AM CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Every spring Camp Ripley begins its annual controlled burn program to help reduce the risk of wildfire during training.
"Usually the burns are completed every spring before the summer annual training season begins," said Tim Notch, training area coordinator on Camp Ripley. "However, the warmer weather conditions provide a nice opportunity for preventative burns earlier this season."
As in years past Camp Ripley will conduct controlled burns on approximately 13,000 acres of the 53,000-acre military reservation. The burns are done in coordination with the staffs of the Camp Ripley Department of Public Works and the Camp Ripley Environmental Department along with support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Posted: 2017-03-23 09:46 AM DULUTH, Minn. - Pfc. Trevor Nelson received the Minnesota Distinguished Recruiting Ribbon and a Minnesota Recruiting and Retention Battalion medallion for excellence from Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Serbus, March 18, 2017, at the Duluth Armory. Nelson earned these awards as part of the online referral system, Leads 2 Enlistment for referring four friends who have joined the Minnesota National Guard.
"I talked to some buddies in my school about the Guard. They liked the benefits, so I put their info in the app and let my recruiter take over." said Nelson. "I thought it would be fun to serve with friends and help them figure out their path in life."
Nelson is currently a senior at Cloquet Senior High School and assigned to the Recruit Sustainment Program in Duluth. He attended basic training at Fort Benning in the summer of 2016 with follow-on training in the summer of 2017 to become an infantryman.
Posted: 2017-03-10 08:50 AM LITCHFIELD, Minn. -Bruce Cottington, a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea, donated a bronze bust of Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr. to the Litchfield National Guard unit during the armory's public open house event March 4. Cottington, a Litchfield resident, commands the Minnesota Chapter of the Veterans of Underage Military Service. VUMS members enlisted in the military prior to the minimum age requirement in order to serve their country during WWII. Cottington received the bust from Vessey, a fellow VUMS member. Both enlisted in the military at the age of 16.
The highlight of the 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion open house was the unveiling of the sculpture. The unit was very supportive when Cottington proposed donating the sculpture. The Litchfield community has always been very supportive of the National Guard over the years, so the open house was a chance to say 'thanks' to their neighbors. "This was a great opportunity to honor Bruce and to honor Gen. Vessey," said B Co., 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander, Capt. Seth Goreham. Bravo Company also has a tight relationship with the local American Legion and VFW. Many Litchfield citizens are former members of Bravo Company, or the unit's predecessors A Co, 682nd Engineer Battalion, and the 849th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Posted: 2017-03-08 03:29 PM CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The garrison command team of Camp Ripley, family, friends and colleagues from the Minnesota National Guard attended a Change of Responsibility ceremony between Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Worden and Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Erickson, March 5, 2017, at Camp Ripley.
The ceremony was an official "passing of the sword" from one senior noncommissioned officer to the next and assumption of the duties and responsibilities that go along with the position of Garrison Command Sergeant Major.
As with many military ceremonies those in attendance welcomed Erickson as a new member of the team and bid farewell, recognized and thanked Worden for his service.