By Paul Wood
SAYBROOK — One of Jeffrey Beightler’s many duties in his many years of service involved the detaining of suspected Iraqi insurgents.
“There were 76 of us deployed, and 76 came back,” Beightler says of his well-trained comrades.
He has retired after 36 years of service, including several years of active duty in the Army, but continues to supervise at Lincoln’s Challenge Academy in Rantoul.
Master Sgt. Beightler, 56, graduated from Champaign Central High School in 1979 and enlisted the next year in the National Guard.
It was a natural fit. His father and his six brothers all served in the military, said Beightler, whose father is a Korean War veteran.
The service would take the younger Beightler to Korea, Iraq, Kuwait and Botswana, the last of which was a humanitarian mission.
He’d signed up with Illinois Army National Guard, but served on active duty from 1986 to 1990 before returning to the Guard.
Beightler said he’s never regretted his years of service.
“The friendship you build is for a lifetime,” he said.
He credited extensive training with keeping his unit safe when on sometimes dangerous duties, which included facing IEDs and mortar fire.
While on active duty, Beightler was stationed at Camp Casey, South Korea, and Fort Carson, Colo.
He served two deployments during the War on Terror, in 2006-2007 at Camp Bucca, Iraq, as well as at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, and Camp Buehring, Kuwait, in 2014.
In Iraq, he worked with troops who managed detainees, and sometimes his unit also guarded the prisoners.
“We were responsible for command and control,” Beightler said. “These were the bad guys. They very much hated America.”
On rare occasions, prisoners made escape attempts, and it was sometimes Beightler’s unit’s duty to help return them safely.
“We practiced over and over again so that safety was second nature,” he said.
These were dangerous years in the areas, though Beightler did not serve in Mosul or Baghdad.
“We also provided cover for vehicles moving back into Kuwait,” Beightler said.
“We all knew each others’ jobs. Each vehicle was outfitted in the same way, so we could move freely from one to another.”
They were trained in 9-Line MEDEVAC, a deliberate series of steps that make evacuation more efficient.
There was also cultural and language training, Beightler said.
He later spent 18 months with the officer training command program at Fort Benning, Ga., preparing troops to become officers.
“Listen to your sergeants and find one you think would be a good mentor, so you can progress,” Beightler said.
“Learn from them. A lot of the NCOs are technically and tactically proficient; they do not even need a book in front of them; they have the information stored in their head.”
His family was always a source of strength.
On one of his deployments, his daughter sent him an iPod, which he still has.
Same songs from 10 years ago, too.
When he really, really retires, Beightler said his ultimate goal is to make a permanent move to Florida, and spend as much time as he can with wife Teresa and his two daughters, as well as grandkids.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at email@example.com.