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Manufacturing veteran lives for family, company, city and country

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August 14, 2020

Master Sgt. Kevin Stiegelmeier fought as a Marine during the thick of the Gulf War. Ten years later, he returned Kuwait, which in 1990 had been invaded and annexed by Iraq.

Stiegelmeier couldn’t believe his eyes. A place once riddle by gunfire was now a thriving, peaceful locale.

“You could actually see the difference that you made,” he said.

While he’s a humble, soft-spoken soldier and might not come out and say it, Stiegelmeier has likely had that feeling on more than one occasion. The Horton machinist has 26 years of military experience, including the past 22 with the South Dakota Army National Guard.

Thursday was his last day of work before his fifth deployment. For the next year, he and 229 other local troops will provide security and technical support at U.S. and allied military bases in and around Djibouti, Africa.

He’ll leave behind his wife, three children, the city where he was born and raised and the company where he’s worked the past 10 years.

“It’s what you sign up for,” Stiegelmeier said. “Nobody wants to leave their family, but everybody that signs up realizes you’ve got a duty to do.”

Stiegelmeier was born and raised in Britton, South Dakota, the town of 1,300 about 60 miles northeast of Aberdeen. His grandfather fought in World War II, his father and multiple uncles all served in the military, and both of his brothers and sisters were Marines.

So following the family tradition was a no-brainer when Stiegelmeier graduated from Britton-Hecla High School.

After a four-year stint with the Marines that included action in Desert Storm, he came home. “I kind of missed it,” he said. So he joined the Sioux Falls-based guard and began working his way up the ranks.

During his career, he’s been part of missions in Iraq (twice), South Korea and the Philippines.

He’s also become an integral piece of the team that makes fan drives in Horton’s Britton manufacturing plant. The private, family-owned company whose founder, Hugh Schilling, flew B-29s during World War II has been nothing but supportive of Stiegelmeier’s National Guard duties, he said.

They even threw him a going-away party — social distancing included, of course — Wednesday.

“Not every company gives its Guard members a send-off like that,” Stiegelmeier said. “It shows what a close-knit kind of family it is.”

Quite literally, in fact. Stiegelmeier’s 22-year-old son, Karsten, works in Horton’s remanufacturing facility in Britton. His cousin’s wife, Laurie Stiegelmeier, works the front desk.

Kevin and his wife Ann also have a 24-year-old daughter, Allison, and a 5-year-old daughter named Isabella. They’ll miss their dad dearly, but he’s looking forward to regular Skype calls with his family and friends.

“That’s definitely the toughest part about leaving,” Stiegelmeier said. “The goodbyes are always hard, but once you’re gone, everybody settles into a routine. My wife’s been through several of them, so she knows what to expect. Communication will be a lot easier this time around than my past deployments.”

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