Our Heroes

Our Heroes

Sergeant Miraha Rae Behle
Sergeant Miraha Rae Behle grew up in Alden, Minnesota, where she graduated from Alden-Conger High School in 2004. She joined the Minnesota Army National Guard at age 17 to serve her country, and to help pay for college.

 

In 2007, Sgt. Behle deployed to New Mexico to support the US. Border Patrol efforts. Then in 2009, she deployed to Kuwait where she served as a rear convoy truck driver to transport supplies to and from U.S. military bases in Iraq and Kuwait.

 

“I want to thank all who donated and who continue to donate, to make these grants possible for all soldiers,” said Sgt. Behle. “It made me feel thankful to serve and feel appreciated.”

 

Sgt. Behle’s $500 MMAF grant was used to help make improvements to the Glenville home she lives in with her husband and three children. Today, she works as a surgical technologist at Mayo Clinic.

Captain Michael Lovas
Captain Michael Lovas enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard in 2004, challenging himself to graduate from basic training. He accomplished this and decided he wanted another challenge, choosing to complete Officer Candidate School, to lead soldiers. Years later he would lead a company of soldiers overseas on a deployment to Kuwait, and return them home safely.

 

“The knowledge I was entrusted by this nation to care for and lead its greatest resource – its sons and daughters – was an inspiration in and of itself. And that trust and knowledge inspires me to keep going,” said CPT Lovas.

 

CPT Lovas deployed to Kuwait from 2011 to 2012 during the drawdown of forces in Iraq, where he served as Assistant Operations Officer, Battalion Engineer Officer and Battalion Public Affairs Officer, with 1-194 CAB. He deployed again to Kuwait from 2015 to 2016 as Commander of the HHC 682nd Engineer Battalion.

 

On his second deployment, CPT Lovas had a very special opportunity outside of his military duties to organize a hockey tournament and play real ice hockey with the Kuwait National Hockey Team. This first ever event featured 3 U.S. teams and the Kuwait National team, and was attended by members of the royal family, embassy personnel and many other dignitaries. The game was broadcast throughout Kuwait and across the world online.

 

CPT Lovas received a $500 grant for his service. He would like to thank those who donated to MMAF to make his grant possible. He also remarked, “What means more than the dollars is knowing I have support in the community, and that my time away from home and family mattered.”

 

CPT Lovas resides in Maple Grove, Minnesota with his wife and three children. They are expecting their fourth child in February.

 

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Specialist Ruben Vargas
Specialist Ruben Vargas recently returned home from a tour of duty with the Minnesota National Guard’s Charlie Company 2-135 IN to the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt where he served as an infantryman.

 

Growing up in a small town in Northwest Indiana, Spc. Vargas graduated from Calumet Baptist High School, then studied at both ITT Technical Institute and Northwest Indiana School of Theology.

 

He joined the National Guard to fulfill his desire to serve his country. “I was raised to always show respect to men and women in uniform,” said Vargas. “My father taught me to always go out of my way to shake the hands of service members and police officers. I still do this today.”

 

Spc. Vargas received a $500 grant from MMAF last summer on Target Field. The money was put towards his vehicle.

 

He commented on how good it felt to be appreciated by MMAF. “I’m very appreciative of everyone who supports MMAF. I hope to one day shake hands with all the great people who made this grant possible. Until that day comes, I want you all to know that I say thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

 

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13,000th grant recipient: Specialist Chang Lee
Specialist Chang Lee, of East St. Paul, served in the United States Army with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the First Battalion 32nd Infantry Regiment Dog Company, as part of the Tenth Mountain Division. He originally enlisted for military service in 2009 at age 19. He was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2011 where he served as a rifle squad’s point man and operator of the mine detector system.

 

On June 20, 2011, SPC Lee was wounded while on patrol when his unit was ambushed. SPC Lee was shot in the left triceps, where the bullet severed an artery, transected his median nerve and severely wounded his bicep. SPC Lee received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained.

 

Multiple surgeries later, SPC Lee hopes to regain function of his left hand. SPC Lee plans to attend the University of Minnesota in the future. He is a 2007 graduate of Henry Sibley High School. SPC Lee received a $2,000 grant from MMAF.

 

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14,000th grant recipient: Lance Corporal Jason Tuuri

Lance Corporal Jason Tuuri, a Marine from White Bear Lake, Minn., was injured during his second military deployment on October 8, 2010, while serving with the 3rd Batallion 6th Marines in Afghanistan.

He was injured while serving as the machine gunner in the lead of a six-vehicle patrol when an IED struck his vehicle. He shattered both heels and has had multiple corrective surgeries.

 

He hopes to walk without crutches in the future. LCPL Tuuri was honored at this summer’s Say Thanks Day with a grant totaling $7,500 from Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund. This was the 14,000th grant MMAF had awarded. He is a 2005 Hill Murray graduate who resides in White Bear Lake.

 

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Mom and Kids Served Our Country Together
Sergeant Dawn VanHeuveln first served in the Navy for eight years, then raised her three children. As her children grew older and more independent, she felt a strong desire to continue her service and joined the Minnesota National Guard. Her two oldest children, who were 19 and 21 at the time, followed suit and soon after joined the National Guard. Dawn and her children, SPC Joshua Ramos and SGT Kimberly Ramos served at the same time and place in Iraq. It’s easy to see that this family’s passion for serving our nation is incredibly strong.

 

Sergeant Dawn VanHeuveln, Specialist Joshua Ramos and Sergeant Kimberly Ramos each received a $500 grant from MMAF in February 2012 at a Timberwolves game as part of Operation Heroes night. They each also received an autographed basketball and jersey from Timberwolves President Chris Wright.

 

More information about this family of MMAF grant recipients:

  • Sergeant Dawn VanHeuveln of Cottonwood, MN, served with the Army National Guard in Iraq as Convoy Security from April 2009-April 2010.
  • Specialist Joshua Ramos served with the A-Battery 151st Field Artillery in Iraq from April 2009-April 2010.
  • Sergeant Kimberly Ramos of Marshall served with the Army National Guard as Convoy Security in Iraq from April 2009 – April 2010.

 

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Specialist Brianna Occhino
Inspired by her father and grandfather’s passion for serving the red, white and blue, SPC Specialist Brianna Occhino joined the United States Army National Guard after graduating from the University of Minnesota. She went to boot camp in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and came back to the 257th MP Company in Monticello (Minnesota’s Elite) and has never regretted her decision to become part of the National Guard “family.” SPC Occhino remarked, “The soldiers that I serve with are now my brothers and sisters.” She is currently deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where she’s in the thick of training and assisting the Afghan National Army. She said, “I love my job here and I love that I was sent with the same people I have trained with for the last five years.” She plans to re-sign when her contract is up so she can continue to serve her country with her military family. SPC Occhino received a $500 grant from MMAF.

 

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Staff Sergeant Ashley Chilson
On October 7, 2009, Staff Sergeant Ashley Chilson was riding through the desert in Helmand, Afghanistan when her vehicle was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). She sustained injuries to her left leg along with a concussion and mild traumatic brain injury. MMAF was honored to award Ashley with a $2,000 grant check, which she used to make renovations in her home. Ashley said, “Receiving the grant from MMAF was an amazing feeling. It’s wonderful knowing there is so much support out there! MMAF had done so much for me.” Ashley has been in the military since September 2001, when she was only 17. She graduated from Bemidji High School in 2003 and was initially deployed to Tikrit, Iraq with Bravo 434th BSB in 2004. Today, she is a member of Field Artillery Support Unit Golf Company 134th BSB in St. Peter, MN. She’s finishing up a nursing program in Rochester.

 

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Technical Sergeant Nathanial (Nate) George
Technical Sergeant Nathanial (Nate) George’s family has been serving in the military since the Revolutionary War. A Hazardous Materials and Joint Airlift Inspector, Nate graduated from Park High School in Cottage Grove. After enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, Nate was deployed to the Balad Air Base in Iraq for six months in 2009. He is currently preparing for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in the fall of 2013, and MMAF was honored to award Nate with a $500 grant. “Receiving my grant made me feel appreciated, that my time in Iraq did not go unnoticed,” said Nate. Currently a reservist stationed in Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station, 934th Airlift Wing, Nate used his grant to pay off some debt and take his kids to Valley Fair. He has an eight-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. “I was able to make memories with my kids after being away for so long.”

 

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Specialist Timothy Brown
Specialist Timothy Brown was deployed to Helmand, Afghanistan for 400 days starting in 2010. During this tour, Timothy experienced 12 attacks by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), one of which caused a severe traumatic brain injury. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Timothy moved to Minnesota in 2009 and graduated from Warroad High School. He joined the military that same spring. “I wanted to do something with my life that mattered,” said Timothy. After receiving a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in Afghanistan, Timothy went on reserve status. Like many veterans, he was unemployed when he returned home, and MMAF was honored to award Timothy a $2,000 grant. He was able to use the money to help pay bills and expenses while looking for work. “I was very honored to receive the grant.” Today, Timothy works in the construction business and lives in Warroad with his wife and daughter. A son is on the way.

 

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Sergeant Colin Faust

Sergeant Colin Faust joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2009 and was deployed in 2010 with USMC 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment to Sangin, Afghanistan. On October 15, he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and suffered life-threatening injuries. His left leg was amputated, his pelvis was broken, and his left arm and right leg were severely injured. Medical treatment began in Afghanistan and Germany, and further care followed in Maryland, Minnesota and Texas. MMAF was honored to award a $10,000 grant to Colin, which he used to remodel his home. “I use a wheelchair 90% of the time when inside my house, and having the proper modifications meant the world to me. My life is a lot more difficult than the normal person and the bathroom remodel made my life a whole lot easier,” said Colin. He continued, “I am a humbled and appreciative recipient. Accepting something like this grant is tough for me, as I typically do not like help in any way from anyone. That being said, the MMAF grant was one of the most incredible things anyone has done for me in my life.” Today, Colin is working toward his business administration degree at the Crown College in St. Bonifacius.

 

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Corporal Tanner Wichmann

Marine Corporal Tanner Wichmann served in the U.S. military for four years. He was deployed to Afghanistan in November 2010 for six months and again in April 2012 for five months. While deployed the second time, Tanner was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which caused a traumatic brain injury as well as an injury to his mid-lower back. “My biggest reason for enlistment in the Corps was to do my part protecting freedoms fought for by previous generations,” said Tanner. He has also received a Purple Heart and is part of the Wounded Warrior Project. MMAF was honored to award Tanner with an $8,000 grant check this summer at the Minnesota Twins Armed Forces Appreciation Day.

 

The 23-year-old is currently living in Minneapolis but plans to move to Florida to attend college as well as contribute to programs that assist veterans and families that have lost loved ones in combat. Right now, Tanner spends much of his free time with his niece Sophia and nephew Landon.

 

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Petty Officer First Class Michelle McClure

Navy Petty Officer First Class Michelle McClure grew up on a farm in Harmony, Minnesota and served as Petty Officer First Class in the U.S. Navy. With the spirit of a nomad, she joined the Navy in 2007 to see the world and meet people from all walks of life. “I grew up in a great place, but I wanted to see if there was somewhere and something better for me out there. I wanted to serve my country and make a difference in the lives of others,” Michelle said. She was part of a task force to Afghanistan in 2012 where her duties often consisted of working with Afghan forces and fostering good relations with Afghan men and woman. She also spent time at Afghan women’s hospitals working with administrators to ensure they had necessary equipment and materials to care for women and children. MMAF was honored to present Michelle with a $500 grant in October. She will be using it to pay for medical expenses. “I’m thrilled to see that ‘Minnesota Nice’ is alive and well,” Michelle says. She was stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia and has now returned to her Minnesota farm to raise calves and ride horses.

 

 

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Sergeant Justin Hattesohl

Army National Guard Sergeant Justin Hattesohl of Big Lake, Minnesota joined the U.S. Army in March 2007 because of encouragement from his older brother. He was deployed to Afghanistan in July 2013 with the 849th MAC from Litchfield. Justin received a $2,000 grant from MMAF for injuries he sustained on January 20, 2014 from a rocket propelled grenade blast. He was wounded in his legs, face and wrist and received a traumatic brain injury. The 25-year-old is in a Community Care Unit (CCU) on active duty and lives at home with his wife Giselle and 10-month-old son Finley. This summer Justin finished an associate’s degree and plans to go back to college to receive a bachelor’s degree in land surveying and mapping science. The money he received from his grant will be going towards tuition and house payments. Justin is working toward his business administration degree at the Crown College in St. Bonifacius.

 

 

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Sergeant Chelsea Peterson

Sergeant Chelsea Peterson was inspired to join the Minnesota National Guard in 2007 at a young age, just before her senior year at Rush City High School. She knew that she would gain tremendous experience and knowledge and earn funds to pay for her education, while serving her country.
Army National Guard Sergeant Justin Hattesohl of Big Lake, Minnesota joined the U.S. Army in March 2007 because of encouragement from his older brother. He was deployed to Afghanistan in July 2013 with the 849th MAC from Litchfield. Justin received a $2,000 grant from MMAF for injuries he sustained on January 20, 2014 from a rocket propelled grenade blast. He was wounded in his legs, face and wrist and received a traumatic brain injury. The 25-year-old is in a Community Care Unit (CCU) on active duty and lives at home with his wife Giselle and 10-month-old son Finley. This summer Justin finished an associate’s degree and plans to go back to college to receive a bachelor’s degree in land surveying and mapping science. The money he received from his grant will be going towards tuition and house payments. Justin is working toward his business administration degree at the Crown College in St. Bonifacius.

 

In 2008, she went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic combat training, followed by Fort Lee, Virginia for advanced individual training as a 92Y-Unit Supply Specialist.

In March 2013, she deployed with the 850th Horizontal Engineer Company to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as the Assistant Supply NCO. After returning, she applied for an MMAF grant and received a $500 grant, which she used to acclimate back to civilian life in Minnesota.

Since receiving the MMAF grant, Sgt. Peterson become involved with MMAF events. She has attended Say Thanks Day, as well as the MMAF fundraising dinner. She said, “I’m thankful for organizations like this that help all our military members. I can say that what you do for us does not go unnoticed. Thank you all for your continued support!”

In June 2015, Sgt. Peterson deployed once again, this time to Kuwait in support of Operation Spartan Shield with Charlie Company 834th Aviation Support Battalion as a Unit Supply NCO.

 

 

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