- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) - In high school, Michael Heuertz told himself that he would never join the military.

In January, Heuertz will leave Kearney to embark on his third deployment since joining the U.S. Army Reserve in 2002.

“I learned to never say never,” Heuertz said.

Heuertz said that he joined the military as a freshman at Hastings College because he hadn’t had the experiences he wanted.

“I had never hardly even ran a mile; I had never fired a rifle. I just really wanted to take on a real challenge. So, I made that choice to go ahead and join the Army Reserve, and little did we realize how busy we would be with the war on terrorism after that,” Heuertz said.

A music teacher at Horizon Middle School, Heuertz will be leaving Kearney Public Schools at the end of the year to begin his deployment.

But this deployment will be different for Heuertz and his wife, Cassandra. It’s the first time he’ll be leaving his children behind.

“They’re sacrificing as well, and we’re in this together,” Heuertz said.

The father of 3-year-old Elsie and 1-year-old Isaac, Heuertz said he has given the children Daddy Dolls so that he can still be nearby in some form.

Heuertz said the dolls resemble him, are in uniform and have a voice feature that will allow him to record messages to his children for playback.

The Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/1JvWoKI ) reports that Heuertz also plans to keep in touch with family and friends via online video chats, phone calls, emails and handwritten letters.

“An old fashioned letter is still great,” he said.

A sergeant first class and member of the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command based at Wichita, Kansas, Heuertz said he learned of the deployment when he reported for training in the fall. He said he’s being deployed to the Middle East for a year, but can’t reveal the exact location.

“The first thing (that) I thought of was: ‘I have a great job at the middle school. I just love these students. I have a wonderful wife and children, and I didn’t want to leave all of that.’ But that’s part of the sacrifice. If there’s a need, and I meet that need, then I’ll gladly go,” Heuertz said.

A chaplain’s assistant, Heuertz said his role is to support the living, care for the wounded and to honor the dead.

Before he leaves for the Middle East, Heuertz said it’s important to slow down and to spend time with friends and family while he can.

No stranger to deployment, Heuertz said that it’s an opportunity to make changes, break bad habits, and strengthen his relationship with God.

“For myself, that’s a time that I really become close with God and see what it is that he’s wanting me to do on that journey,” Heuertz said.

He added that faith and family are what keeps him going when he’s deployed overseas and away from his loved ones.

“The first thing that keeps me going in the morning is God, and the mission that I have to love others and to care for others,” Heuertz said.

Even though his wife and kids will remain in Nebraska, Heuertz noted that the Army is a second family for him.

“It’s really about the people. It’s your brothers and sisters on your left and your right and those relationships that you build that make it really what it is,” Heuertz said. “That brotherhood and sisterhood is real. It’s unbelievable. It is a second family.”

In his fourth year of teaching, but his first year at Horizon, Heuertz said that he’s seen strong support from students and staff at the school.

“I’m so blessed to have a grateful nation that has supported veterans and supported current service members,” Heuertz said.

Though he’ll be gone for a year, Heuertz will return to Horizon thanks to the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act.

A federal law enacted in 1994, USERRA ensures that service members will be able to return to their positions after a tour of duty.

Heuertz described music as integral to his life and faith. He plays guitar and piano, and he joked that with a little effort, he can get some low notes out of a tuba.

Heuertz said that he was never a natural musician, but he always thought music gave back to him everything he put into it.

“I don’t know that I had ever encountered something that was extremely challenging yet extremely rewarding,” he said.

Heuertz said his music students don’t want him to leave, but they are learning to accept it.

Horizon Principal Kipp Petersen is another person that said he’s sad to see Heuertz leave.

“We’re obviously supportive of him going, and we’re really anxious for him to come back,” Petersen said.

Petersen described Heuertz as trustworthy, hardworking and kind to students, parents, and fellow staff members.

“He’s been a real pleasure to work with,” Petersen said. “We really like him as a teacher, and he does amazing things with our students.”

Petersen added that he knew deployment was always a possibility, and that he and the Horizon staff are proud of Heuertz for his service.

“We’re proud of Michael for his service to our country and he will do a great job,” Petersen said.

Monday, Heuertz was honored at the monthly Kearney Public Schools Board of Education meeting for his service.

___

Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/


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