Honoring & Remembering: Chaplain Major Elmer ‘Sandy’ Aakre

Chaplain Major Elmer Sandy Aakre was born Feb. 2, 1948 to Elmer and Madge Aakre in Conrad, MT.

Pastor Sandy enlisted as a chaplain in January, 1988. You cannot join after you turn 40 so he was just under the wire for doing that. His training took place at Fort Manmoujth and Fort Dix which lasted for six weeks. His wife, Shelley, drove to his graduation ceremony, bringing their four children with her. She was the only wife who


came to the graduation.

He retired from the South Dakota Army National Guard in February of 2010. Sandy served for 22 years as a chaplain, first with the 1st Battalion of the 147th Field Artillery in Sioux Falls and since 1999 as the chaplain for the 153rd Engineer Battalion in Huron.

His deployment has taken him to six countries and four continents. They are Korea, Germany, Italy, Iraq, Kuwait, and Suriname.

His longest time of serving was in Iraq which lasted from December of 2003 through March of 2005. Deployment has also taken him for state relief efforts to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Fargo Flooding Relief in North Dakota and he served as the South Dakota Army National Guard chaplain for the Spencer Tornado Relief efforts.

Sandy earned many awards during his service to our country. They are: Meritorious Service Medal/Army Commendation Medal/Army Achievement, Medal/ Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal/National Defense, Service Medal (Second Award)/Army Service Ribbon/Army Reserve Overseas, Training Ribbon (Second Award) /Driver and Mechanic Badge with Driver Wheeled Vehicle(s) Clasp/Armed Forces Reserve Medal W/M Device/ Global, War on Terrorism Services Medal/Overseas Service Ribbon/Overseas Service Bar (Secon Award)/Meritorious Unit Citation/Navy Unit Commendation/Iraq Campaign Medal W/Two Campaign Stars/Louisiana Relief Ribbon/North Dakota Relief Ribbon.

Chaplain Aakre has many human interest stories which are too many to relate in this article. I will tell you a few. One of his memories is seeing children sitting along side of the road watching the convoy and hoping for some treat from the soldiers. The treat they really wanted was water. They don't have a water system as we know it. Everything goes into the water and it looks like the color of the soft drink, Coke.

Chaplain Aakre said, If there was extra water we would throw it out as far as we could to get them away from the troop convoy so they wouldn't get hurt. Many of these young children are very poor and so they are mostly naked and have no shoes. One of the activities of the soldiers when they weren't busy fighting was to build the kids a school. Having noticed that the children had no shoes, they asked their churches back home, which for this group was in Arizona, if they could send shoes. They thought they would need about 200 shoes. Their churches did and sent 200 boxes of shoes of various sizes and 400 pair of socks. Word had gotten out that shoes were coming and 740 kids showed up! So, some got shoes and some got socks.

A lot of our young men and women grew up fast while seeing how the poor people live. There were only four hours of electricity for the day, no indoor plumbing of any kind with very little food. Those who had come from poor areas of the United States understood that even their own personal poverty made them feel rich compared to what they experienced in Iraq.

At times the United States food inspectors would come into their camps and declare foods unfit just because some potatoes and onions had roots on them or apples were a little soft. They had to box these foods and put them in a truck. The truck would then go to one of the burning pits, called sheols, which are all over Iraq, and dump the food into the burning pits. One time Sandy watched a few of the local men who had gathered outside of the food storage area. They had heard that the food was going to be thrown away, so they came as close to the burning pit as they dared.

When it was determined that no one was going to interfere with them, they chose the youngest male in the group, who had nothing on his feet but a pair of sandles, and had him stand on one of the boxes and grab the closest box to him and throw it to the group next to the pit. He kept doing this until he was standing on the last box which was by this time burning up, and jumped off of it and put his hands into it and retrieved what he could.

When this activity was finished, they divided the food up between themselves and carried the food rolled up in their clothing. They were very thankful for the food because that night their families would not go to bed hungry.

There were some special places mentioned in the Bible that he was privileged to see. There was the area of Babylon which was destroyed and a brick with printing done in cuneiform which read I Nebuchadnezzar the Lion of Babylon ruler of the world has built this. Right near to where the throne room was, is the pit that Daniel was thrown into, known as the Lion's Den. Also near the throne room is the area in which Alexander the Great died.

Chaplain Aakre believes he has seen the area known as The Garden of Eden. He is not the only one who believes it. It is an accepted opinion in Iraq. Most archeologists believe it is in that area. It is called Habbiniyah. There is an area where water flows hydraulically from the The Great Euphrates and Tigris River. It flows under the sand and anything that is planted around four inches deep, grows.

There are the most beautiful flowers he has ever seen and the trees grow up to 150 feet tall. Dates are in abundance.

It appears to me that Pastor Sandy is a packrat. He has brought home many articles which are reminders of the different cultures he has experienced or of the war. He has turned artiliary shells into center pieces using flowers, flags and pictures of veterans and military men and women for the Memorial Day service. He has brought home at least two 500 pound bomb shells, one of which he has turned into a pulpit.

Chaplain Major Elmer Sandy Aakre has had the privilege of mentoring many young men and women, of helping them find or strengthen their faith, and even performing wedding ceremonies. He truly misses being around them and being involved in their lives.

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