Siblings say growing up on the farm prepared them to serve
Growing up actively involved in their family's fourth-generation South Dakota farm prepared Josie Ries and four of her siblings well for military service.
"There are so many times on the farm or in our small farming community of Polo when we did things bigger than ourselves not just on our family's farm, but for others in our community," explains Josie, who joined the Army National Guard as a junior in high school. "Being a soldier is similar. You develop a strong sense of family and community with the people you serve with and you have this awesome sense of doing something bigger than you."
When she signed up in 1996, Josie was the first of five Schaefers siblings to serve. The second oldest of seven children, Josie said she was inspired by older cousins and neighbors who served, as well as the fact that in their small community of Polo, patriotism is celebrated.
"We always had the best Fourth of July and Memorial Day celebrations," Josie recalls.
She was only 17, so her parents, Fred and Cheryl Schaefers, had to sign for her.
Her brother, Paul, adds that in Polo, the Legion is one of only a few buildings left in the town. "Our Legion plays a big role in the community; making donations to local ball programs and helping with funerals and celebrations," explains Paul, 31, who deployed to Iraq in 2006 and now farms full-time. Paul and his wife, Blair, a registered nurse, live in Polo.
Paul was a recent high school graduate when Josie deployed to Iraq in 2003.
He and his other siblings all credit Josie, in part, with inspiring them to serve. "It felt like the right thing to do," explains Paul, who didn't wait to be called up, but instead volunteered to deploy in 2006 with an infantry guard unit from Michigan. "I didn't want to sit on the sidelines. I wanted to do my part."
By 2012, his brother, Sam, and sister, Paivi Stone, and their youngest brother, Jacob, were also enlisted.
As the youngest of seven, Jacob says even though he was the baby, he wasn't coddled at home on the farm. "Once they all left I had to do a lot of work on the farm, plus help my mom with her catering business."
Jacob says the work ethic and ability to stick with a job until it was done that he developed on the family's crop and livestock farm served him well in his role as a Marine. "When something breaks on the farm, you may not know what is wrong or how to fix it, but you will get it figured out," Jacob says.
Jacob, now 26 and attending Dakota State University on the 9-11 GI Bill, worked as a data switching technician. Basically, he explains that it was his job to work on any type of communication gear, as well as make repairs to communication equipment.
He shares an example of a time when a commanding officer ordered him and the team he supervised to wire trucks with communication equipment. Jacob questioned the officer because he thought the trucks he was asked to wire were the wrong trucks. The officer didn't listen. So Jacob and his team of six wired the trucks.
Turns out, Jacob was right. So, he and his team were ordered to take out the wiring and wire the correct trucks.
"There were eight trucks. Each truck took about 2 to 3 hours to wire. I learned from working on the farm, that even jobs you don't want to do have to get done. So my team worked overnight and by the next morning the correct trucks were wired," Jacob recalls.
Even though he was only 19, Jacob was mature enough to chalk the experience up to a
good lesson in what NOT to do as a leader. His ability to lead earned him quick promotions through the ranks. By the time he was 20, he was a platoon sergeant responsible for 28 Marines.
Like Jacob, his siblings list the work ethic they developed on the farm as serving them well in the military.
"I used to jokingly tell people that working in the Air Force is easier than when I was home working on the farm and helping mom with her catering business," explains Paivi, 29, who serves as a Military Justice Paralegal at the U.S. Air Force Academy Headquarters in Colorado.
"We developed a work ethic as farm kids that is rare. If it's calving season, you get up in the middle of the night to check calves and you don't complain. It's just what you do."
Her brother, Sam, was recognized with the Army Commendation Medal during deployment to Kuwait for his hard work and the long hours he put in working as a wield mechanic.
In addition to repairing the tracked vehicles they were trained on, Sam and another soldier, who was also a farm kid, figured out how to replace Humvee engines.
"We were asked, 'Did you guys ever change a Humvee engine?' We said 'no.' The response was, 'Well you're going to have to now,'" so, like they'd learned from repairing farm equipment, Sam and his friend worked at it until they had it figured out.
"On a small farming operation, you have to be pretty handy. We didn't have our own personal mechanic, so we grew up fixing all different things on our farm. Whether it was something in the milk parlor, a grain bin, an old swather or a tractor."
Although they only had very basic tools to work with, Sam and his friend became so efficient in repairing Humvee engines that "they would bring us a Humvee with a blown engine in the morning, and me and the other farm kid would take it out, repair it and have it back in by supper."
Working hard came second nature to the Schaefers siblings. It also proved to be a useful way to kill time on deployment.
Paul explains that he would go out on three-to-five day missions training Iraqi police and going on patrols with them. He would then spend the next three-to-five days on base with no assignments. "Those days were long. There was nothing to do. So, I would go work in the shop to stay busy."
Sam added that because of his background, he felt more emotionally prepared for the day-to-day stresses of deployment. "Growing up on a small family farm with seven kids, there are days when things can get pretty hectic, but you learn how to stay calm under pressure.
That was a huge attribute I gained from growing up on the farm."
His sister, Paivi, would agree. "I never had anything super crazy happen to me on my deployments, but I felt I could handle most things. When we would get rocketed, there wasn't time to panic. I knew 'Ok, we are getting rocketed. I need to put on my helmet and my vest.'" It was also Paivi's strong will that motivated her to join the Air Force security forces.
The older Schaefers who served in the Army National Guard teased her that the Air Force was an easier branch of the military. "So I thought, 'If I'm going to an easier branch, I need a job that would prove myself to my brothers and sister.'" Paivi met her husband, Patrick, in the Air Force. He also served in security forces.
Friendly competition aside, Paivi added that while they were deployed, the siblings knew their mom was praying for them and they had each other to lean on.
"On my first deployment, Paul was deployed at the same time. He and I were constantly e-mailing each other. I know Sam and Josie did the same thing. We all felt we could tell each other everything and we probably didn't tell mom everything."
A truck driver in her company, Josie says her parents played a pivotal role in her ability to take on any challenge. "My parents never put a cap on anything. They taught us that we could do whatever we wanted if you dig deep you can really do anything," she explains. "You can imagine, as a woman truck driver in a company of mostly men, I felt I had to work harder and be more competent to gain their respect."
Now that all five Schaefers siblings are safely home from their deployments, which together total 7 throughout the years of 2003 to 2013, they say they clearly understand the sacrifice those who serve, along with their families and communities back home, make.
Josie's oldest son, Kade, was 4 when she was deployed. "It was hard. I took my two-week leave to come home for his fifth birthday," Josie explains. "It helped that my husband, Kevin, is a farmer, so while I was deployed, he kept Kade home with him." Josie currently works as a registered nurse at Prairie Lakes Healthcare in Watertown. Kade is 17. She and Kevin have four children.
Sam missed the birth of Olivia, he and his wife, Kelli's, oldest daughter.
"After having to make the sacrifice of leaving my family and wife for deployment, I do care a lot about world politics," says Sam, who works full-time for the Army National Guard as a Readiness Non Commissioned Officer. "A person can't go through an experience like that and not be changed."
Serving their country was a life-changing experience, which the Schaefers say broadened their horizons and expanded their definition of family.
"It was definitely the best experience of my life," says Jacob, who is expecting his first child with his wife, Brittany, in March 2017. "Mostly, I miss the people I met and feel as if I literally gained brothers and sisters from being in the military."
The Schaefers family farm is also highlighted this month. To read their family's farm story, visit www.sdfu.org.