FARGO, N.D. - Sgt. 1st Class Tyler Campbell, 31, of Lemmon is one of the farmer-soldiers who make the Army National Guard fit into his life. Campbell was the first South Dakota National Guard soldier wounded in the Iraq war and received a Purple Heart award in 2003, at age 20.
Tyler, who is still in the National Guard, enlisted during his junior year of high school. He signed on with the 200th Engineer Company, with headquarters in Pierre and detachments in Mobridge, Chamberlain and Lemmon. The unit specializes in building dry span bridges and floating bridges.
Today, he farms in association with his father-in-law, Richard Glines. His grandfather, Dale Campbell, ranches in the Lemmon area, and his father, Todd, is a former farmer and director of the Grand River Grazing Association.
After graduating high school in 2001, Campbell started in the fall of 2002 at South Dakota State University in Brookings. He was activated for duty in January 2003 and was in Iraq by mid-March.
Campbell’s unit was working near Baqubah, Iraq, a city of about 450,000 people, 31 miles northeast of Baghdad. The city saw heavy guerrilla activity, involving enclaves of Sunni, the sect that Saddam Hussein belonged to.
His company, which included about 160 members, quickly completed a 300-meter-long float bridge across the Tigris River. After that, the unit’s trucks were reassigned to haul missions, as well as bridge maintenance. It was early in the war, and the insurgents had not gotten as sophisticated with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“Our camp was kind of an outlying camp that was very small,” he recalls. “Security on it was less than perfect. We’d get mortared and have mortars come into our camp on a daily basis. Someone was keeping track, but quit after they got past 500.”
On July 14, 2003, Campbell was on patrol in a Humvee in “presence patrol” just outside of town. Suddenly, the vehicle was hit by a shoulder-launched rocket grenade, probably fired from within 50 yards. The rocket came in behind the driver. The device itself weighed about a pound and was about 6 inches long and 5 inches around.
“It blew me out of the passenger-side door, but the grenade never exploded,” says Campbell, who was sent sprawling onto the road. “I got fragmenting shrapnel in both sides in my arms and neck and some road rash.”
The driver broke his back and the gunner caught some minor shrapnel damage. Campbell figures if the device had exploded, or if it had hit a fraction of a second earlier, all three people in the vehicle might have died.
“I didn’t realize I had shrapnel at first, because of the adrenaline,” Campbell recalls. “They patched me up back at camp, and pretty soon I went back to work.”
At age 20, Campbell received the Purple Heart at the encampment Sept. 11, 2003, on the second anniversary of the 9-11 attack on New York City. He came home in March 2004.
Soldier to farmer
Back home, Campbell decided he couldn’t immediately fit back into college life.
He started working for an excavation company in Lemmon, but soon accepted a full-time assignment as a National Guard recruiter in Brookings, S.D. In 2007, he was married and moved to Sturgis, S.D., where he continued as a recruiter. In 2010, Campbell opted out of a two-year helicopter training because of his shoulder injuries, and because he and his wife Kristy had a newborn son, Tatum, who was born in August. Daughter Chloe came along in 2012.
Still in the Guard, he moved back to Lemmon to farm with Kristy’s father, Richard Glines. Campbell switched to a traditional monthly duty status and took an assignment as the non-commissioned officer in charge of the small arms range and training areas at the South Dakota Training Center in Rapid City. It is a nondeployable unit, so Campbell doesn’t expect to serve overseas again.
“I worked with my father-in-law as a hired man for a year and then we secured some of our own farm ground, and we started getting set up to move on our own,” Campbell says. Glines gave up some rented land that Campbell was able to pick up. He raises wheat and corn and has tried soybeans. He sometimes raises barley and oats for feed.
“It isn’t a big farm,” he says. “I work it myself … Kristy spends time taking care of the kids. She helps me move (equipment among) fields. I farm about 1,500 acres and run a cow-calf operation with about 60 head.”
Campbell acknowledges he has benefitted by starting in what have been some good weather years for crops, as well as exceptional years for beef and grain prices. But the big benefit is advice from his father-in-law.
This year, the Guard didn’t schedule drills during the first weekend of September because of funding issues, which allowed time to harvest.
“Luckily, I was able to get the wheat harvest done in August and September,” Campbell says. His weekend duty on Nov. 1 and 2 meant he had to leave about half of his corn - 140 acres - to harvest during the week of Nov. 3 and 4.
“Then the focus starts to shift to feeding cows for the winter. I’ll take on 200 head of calves to custom-feed the rest of the winter.”
Farm, military kinship
Campbell says he’ll stay in the Guard for at least another five years to complete his planned 20 years.
“Then I’ll review my status with the current farming career,” he says.
A huge benefit is the service offers excellent, affordable health care for servicemen and their families.
He acknowledges that military duty and farming don’t always fit perfectly.
“It’s all about just managing your time and doing what it takes to get things accomplished,” he says. Campbell, who spent five years as a recruiter, sees a strong connection to rural skills and military demands.
Farmers need to fix mechanical problems in the field, often under difficult conditions.
“You learn through your time in farming to diagnose things and fix things. There are traits you pick up that help you immensely. They say common sense isn’t common anymore, but you see a lot of it in this area because you have to have it to survive in farming.”
The former recruiter says many of the young people who get into it come from families with a tradition of service.
“It’s also the hard work ethic that comes from this area, the dedication and service,” Campbell says. “And whether they come out and admit it, they recognize they need to do something to give back to a country that they love, that’s offered so much to their family. That’s what I saw, so that family tradition is huge.