Elmer Sandy Aakre

Minister at Vermillion's First Baptist Church

Vermillion's First Baptist Church

General Information

Employment History

National Guard

South Dakota Army National Guard


North American Baptist Seminary

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Aakre: Christmas may be a 'tearful' time for some
One local man who has seen this first-hand is Chaplain (Major) Elmer "Sandy" Aakre. Minister at Vermillion's First Baptist Church, Aakre served with the National Guard from 1988 to 2010. He was deployed several times, the longest being to Iraq from December 2003 to March 2005 with the 153rd Engineer Battalion. Christmas can be a difficult time when family members are so far away, he said. "Christmas was a tearful time for these guys," Aakre said. "There was more than anybody had ever eaten," Aakre said. "We mostly just talked through it - munch and eat and talk. ... You got to see everybody's tradition, and what was important to them." Aakre also arranged a bit of fun by renting three camels, one of which he describes as "huge." "If you wanted to get on that camel, the Bedouins would make him sit down, you'd jump on him, they'd make him stand up and we'd take pictures like crazy," he said. "And then run like crazy to the Internet and say, 'Dear folks, I know you're at Grandma's today and you're having a wonderful time, but look at what I'm doing!'" Being in a poverty-stricken country like Iraq puts things in perspective, Aakre said. "We have so much and we don't really appreciate it," he said. Now they're pros," Aakre said. "Something that small meant so very, very much to them." This point was driven home to Aakre when he would go fishing at a nearby river, which he describes as "unbelievably filthy." "The water is just as black as a Diet Coke," he said. "All the sewage goes in the river, you've got dead camels in the river, you've got women washing clothes in the river and guys with gas stations dumping their oil in the river. And kids swimming in the river." Despite this, the river was home to many Eurasian carp, which Aakre would catch in his spare time. "As soon as I'd catch one, there'd be a little kids sitting there with his hands out," he said. "I'd say, 'Where did that little rascal come from?' They just seemed to come right out of the ground." Once the child had the fish, he would take it home to one of the tiny makeshift houses standing nearby. "(His mother) had a small hatchet there, and she'd just chop it into chunks - didn't scale it or gut it - throw it in the frying pan, dump in some rice and they'd all sit down and eat," Aakre said. The memories that come from spending time with family are some of the biggest reasons the season is so special, Aakre said. "There's nothing better than a kid having a present, sitting down, throwing the present in the corner and playing with the box," he laughed.

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Broadcaster Press 03 December 6, 2011 www.broadcasteronline.com One in a VerMillion Meet Elmer 'Sandy' Aakre By Travis Gulbrandson travis.gulbrandson@plaintalk.net Chaplain (Major) Elmer "Sandy" Aakre waited longer than most people to join the National Guard.
"I was sworn in three days before I turned 40," he said. Raised in Montana, Aakre worked in that state as a teacher for 12 years before he came to South Dakota in 1981, graduating from the North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls in 1984. Aakre was a minister at First Baptist Church when he was contacted by an ROTC member about a demonstration protesting President Ronald Reagan's military policies. "He said, 'There were all these pastors there - where was my pastor? Aakre said. "I came to church the next day, and there was a card waiting for me." The card was sent by the Army, asking if Aakre was interested in becoming a military chaplain. After some encouragement from his wife Shelley, Aakre found he met all the requirements except weight. "From the 27th of March to the 27th of July, I lost 100 pounds - basically I just quit eating," he said. Aakre served with the 1st Battalion of the 147th Field Artillery in Sioux Falls from 1988 to 1999, and with the 153rd Engineer Battalion in Huron from 1999 to 2010. He was deployed several times, the longest being to Iraq from December 2003 to March 2005. He said he was glad to help. "You get really close to these guys and gals," he said. "I became closer to them than my own brothers. … I got to know the fears and the tears and the joys. Aakre got to assist them with problems at home, as well. He recalled one incident in Iraq when he was waiting in line at the "telephone shack" and a man came out in tears. "He said, 'My wife's really upset. The baby needs diapers, our washer is leaking water on the floor and she went outside and there's a flat tire on the car,'" Aakre said. Aakre took the phone, and 15 minutes later two retired sergeant majors were at the woman's door. "One of the sergeant majors had a little thermos of coffee and some diapers, and said, 'My plumber is coming over to fix this thing.'" The other sergeant major enlisted his son to help fix the tire. "They called back an hour later … and she was happy as a clam," Aakre said. "Everybody was so nice and kind, and the world was right. That's what the family support group was able to do. Aakre said he's glad he was able to help provide that kind of support for more than 20 years. "I miss them," he said.

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Chaplain (Major) Elmer 'Sandy' Aakre of Vermillion retired from the South Dakota Army National Guard (SDARNG) in February 2010.

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