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Thursday, November 10, 2011 Tri-County News Kimball, MN Veterans' Day Salute Page 7 Jason Hilsgen, U.S. Marin( ,s Lance Corporal, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Weapons Company, CAAT 1 Platoon By ]ean Doran Matua, Editor Jason is the fourth of five children of]eft and ]ulie Hilsgen. It's not surprising that he joined the military. His older brother and two of his three sisters also are in the mili- tary (the third sister is married to a military man). Different jobs, different services, but service in the military is definitely in their blood. Jason graduated from Eden Valley-Wat- kins High School in 2008 and attended college for awhile. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines in ]anuary 2010 and he'll get out in January 2014. He doesn't plan to re-up then; instead he plans to come home to farm and continue with college. Jason was home recently for a few days leave on his way from Afghanistan, where he'd served for just short of six months, to Camp Pendelton in California. He'll spend 14 months in California in build-up mode, and then he and his unit will spend about seven months deployed on MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit). The end of MEU will be about when his time in the Marines is up. There are about 700 in his battal- ion nicknamed the "1-5" for 1st Battalion 5th Regiment. His unit had 191 wounded and 17 killed in action, men aged 20-29. A memorial service was held last week at Camp Pendleton for the men they lost. Jason was stationed in Sangin, Afghan- istan, in the southwestern area of the war- torn country. The British held this area for four years before U.S. Marines took over. His job there? "I shoot TOW missiles at tanks and drive MRAPs," he said. (MRAP = Mine-resistant armored protectors, a 7-ton truck). He is a driver, scout and gunner. During his nearly six months in Afghanistan, his unit found 700 pounds of home-made explosives. They also went on missions twice a month into the des- ert, or "brown zone," to find caches of and Jason stands proudly beside photos of siblings Jessica, Josh, Justine and Jennifer shortly after he returned from six months in Afghanistan. Four of the siblings are in the military; one is married to a military man. Their parents are Jeff and Julie Hilsgen who live on a farm between Kimball and Watkins. weapons. This means men on foot, walk- ing the desert with metal-detectors much of the time. Jason says he's only been shot at a few times. By far, the biggest danger they face is from IEDs, improvised explosive devices. For the most part, Jason explained, those making the IEDs are not particu- larly skilled, and the materials they use are crude. But they're observant and, Jason says, they come up with a new way to make an IED about every couple of weeks. They watch how the U.S. troops and our allies operate, and they adjust their methods to cause the most harm possible. They'll change the composition of the IEDs, the way they're placed or hidden, or the way they're detonated. They've also shifted to non-metalic materials that can't be located with metal-detectors. Jason was driving a seven-ton MRAP in a convoy when it hit an IED on the road. The blast burst his eardrums and gave him a major concussion, but he was seat-belted and his injuries were minimal. (He spent two days on bedrest, and then went back to work.) The pressure inside the truck cab blew the door off, and it blew the bolted-down turret cover off as well. As it turns out, the IED his truck hit con- tained 40 pounds of explosives. This par- ticular IED, like many in Afghanistan, was in a yellow plastic water jug, somewhat similar to what we use here as a plastic gas can. Had the bomb- maker been better at it, Jason and the oth- ers in the truck prob- ably would have been killed. Fortunately for them, he didn't do a very good job and the blast was much less than it could have been. Had Jason been driving a Humvee instead of a seven-ton MRAP, there would have been a very dif- ferent outcome too. That day, ]uly 6, two vehicles in Jason's unit hit IEDs. After the sec- ond explosion, the mission was halted for the day. "Good experience," Jason said, chuckling. Jason explained that most of the prob- lem comes from out-of-town fighters, not the local people. They are mostly males, and are pretty much of any age. They arrive by the busful from other middle Eastern countries and often accidentally harm the locals with their IEDs. "A lot of the locals are starting to like us," Jason said. "They would tell us this is where the IEDs are, and we can go and blow them up. And they would tell us, like, this compound is being used by the Taliban, and so we would go and destroy it. They would be helping us out a lot sometimes." The enemy is any Muslim extremist, not just the Taliban. They're all coming to this one spot, he explained, to fight us. He also said that they're making lots of small, five- to ten-pound IEDs instead of a few big ones. The larger, 40- to 60-pound IEDs are meant to take out trucks. Jason thinks the insurgents only want to wound U.S. troops and take them out of the fight, not necessarily to kill them. "We are really helping the people over there," ]ason said. "They really need help." For example, the United States has rebuilt the main high- way in the region, 611. It used to be a dirt road laced with IEDs, and both farmers and the general population stopped using it because it was so dangerous. As a result, the local bazaar was nearly dead for lack of sellers and buyers. Today it's a paved highway, and the bazaar is a thriving, bustling place. The Afghan National Army is doing a good job taking over, said Jason. He figures that in another two years we'll be able to massively pull out from Afghanistan. Part of Jason's job in Sangin was to teach the Afghan National Police how to sweep effec- tively for mines and IEDs. Another part of his job was to partici- pate in roadblocks and searches of vehi- cles and the people in them. The United States gets fingerprints from IEDs that are found. In the field, Jason and others would compare fingerprints and iris scans with a database of known or suspected ene- mies. (The Afghan National Police are taking over much of these checkpoint duties.) During his time there, his unit detained 40-50 men. They never learned what hap- pened to them after that. Jason Hilsgen was driving this 7-ton truck when it hit an lED near Sangin, Afghanistan, this summer (July 6).