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Air Force veteran continues to serve in honor guard

There were no safe places.

That s how Culpeper Air Force veteran Kerry Romesberg describes Vietnam during his six-month stint at Phu Cat Air Base in 1969. The reality of North Vietnamese guerrilla tactics such as sniper fire, booby traps and organized raids meant never letting your guard down. That, and the constant barrage of rockets and mortars raining down on a nearby American military base. Still, his time in Vietnam holds some of his most cherished memories of a long military service and distinguished federal government career.

The oldest of seven children, Romesberg was born on a farm in Rockwood, Pennsylvania. A November snowstorm in 1948 forced the local doctor to travel on a sleigh to deliver the 11-pound Romesberg into the world. A bonafide Pennsylvania farm boy, Romesberg wasn t sure what he d do for a living. His grandfather and father, both military veterans, also worked in the field of journalism, which was one option. But then, in 1965, the 17-year-old high school senior received a visit from an armed forces recruiter. After taking the aptitude tests, Romesberg was offered a position in Navy intelligence in Washington, DC. The opportunity, and the accompanying salary, were too good for the teenager to pass up.

But with growing American involvement in a war raging a hemisphere away, Romesberg knew it was only a matter of time before he d be drafted to serve overseas. In 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to the Air Police. He traveled to Texas for training.

I got my draft notice when I was already in basic training, he said. He requested a post at Andrews Air Force Base (now Joint Base Andrews) in Prince George s County, Maryland, but was instead assigned to a post in South Korea. From there, he saw the marshaling of U.S. forces explode.

The base went from 700 to 7,000 in a week, he said. Because he already had clearances for handling classified information, Romesberg landed a desk job processing security clearances for others during his tour in South Korea. As his time there came to a close, others warned him not to request a return to the states because he d likely end up somewhere like South Dakota.

Again, the young man pressed for a posting at Andrews.

I got Rapid City, South Dakota, he said, laughing. To pass the time, the Air Police crew there would often go out to play cowboys and Indians with squirt guns. They d ride horses. Sometimes they d go to town. They visited the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. There wasn t much else to occupy their time. While there, Romesberg volunteered to train for a new, elite 500-man squadron of Combat Security Police within the Air Force generally known as Rangers. He was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to learn survival and weapons skills used to repel raiding parties in Vietnam. After six months of training, he boarded a nonstop transport for Qui Nhon Airfield.

I was lucky, he said. Most got three days of survival training before they landed in Vietnam.

There, he worked with his unit and the Korean Tiger division (Capital Mechanized Infantry) to provide base security. It was a close-knit group.

There wasn t a man in that squadron who wouldn t have cut their arm off for the commander, he said. He was a Lt. Col. and he crawled through the mud just like we did. Eventually, however, the Air Force decided the Ranger concept of swapping out units every six months wasn t working. When he finished his tour, Romesberg flew back to England Air Force Base in Louisiana and was asked to submit a new assignment request. He asked, yet again, for Andrews.

It was what I wanted, he said, laughing about his time as a desk sergeant at the coveted post. And it was probably the worst nine months of my career. When a VIP flies in, the base essentially closes down and everyone hates you.

Still, for a man in his early 20s, Romesberg felt lucky. When his time at Andrews ended, he had a job waiting. And he immediately started sporting a ponytail and a beard.

I went to work for the Navy again and also worked at the Pentagon in defense supply, he said. It was while working as a federal contracting officer at Ballston in Arlington that he was approached by a Navy chief about another possible assignment.

He said, Kerry, let s go down the cafeteria. I d like to talk to you, Romesberg recalled. He asked me, Kerry, you ve been in Vietnam, right? How would you like to go back to Vietnam? A two-rank promotion and a housing allowance sealed the deal. Romesberg called his parents and asked them if they d garage his beloved 1963 Buick convertible.

Less than three weeks later, Romesberg boarded a plane to Saigon where he spent the next 18 months in the defense attache s office handling access to classified information for operatives, both overt and covert. Safely home well before the city fell in 1975, he worried for his remaining friends and their families attempting to evacuate. One of his personal heroes was the station manager for Flying Tiger Airline who told his employees to show up at the airport and he d get them out.

He was kicking off the Vietnamese police, and the plane took off without permission, Romesberg said. He meant what he said. He got them out. To top off his 39-year career as a public servant, Romesberg worked for four years as a program manager on various Native American reservations.

About 80 percent of the residents don t have basic communications, many don t even have electricity, he said. And more than that live in abject poverty. I think the Native Americans are entitled to everything they can derive now.

Continuing to honor all of his heroes is a priority for the Air Force vet. He serves on the Honor Guard for Culpeper s VFW Burton-Hammond Post 2524 showing his deep respect at area veteran funerals.

We ve done about 50 already this year, he said. We did seven just last week. In VFW organizations across the country, Romesberg said, there s a enormous need for new members.

It s kind of a hard sell, he said. There just isn t the same veteran mentality these days. I m a Vietnam veteran and I m one of the younger ones! He d like to see veterans of all ages get involved and he believes many organizations aren t doing enough to recruit and keep them with activities that younger people enjoy.

I have so much respect for the people who are volunteering today, Romesberg said. They serve five or six terms. No one is making them.

Along with his peers in the Honor Guard, Romesberg plans to participate at the 11 a.m. ceremony Monday at Culpeper National Cemetery. He reserves his greatest respect for those heroes we recognize on Memorial Day.

There s no more that you can give, he said.

Eaton plant turns out to greet returning soldier

KEARNEY Production at Kearney s Eaton Corp. shut down for an hour Wednesday as employees welcomed back to work a co-worker who recently served two tours of duty. First Lt. Nate McGruder, 32, of Kearney, an infantry officer with the Nebraska Army National Guard s 195th Special Operations Unit based in Omaha, had a surprise as he returned to work Wednesday afternoon from two back-to-back tours in Kuwait being greeted by almost 400 employees.

“It really caught me by surprise, the support that was shown here today,” McGruder said. Eaton Plant Manager Scott Bailey and McGruder s manager, Landon Lueshen, took McGruder to a late lunch. In the meantime, employees formed a tunnel walk line outside on the west entrance into the plant, lining the employee entrance hallway inside to the plant. McGruder placed his hand over his mouth when he saw the entourage that started at the plant s west security gate.

“It s an amazing feeling when you ve got that many people showing their support,” he said. “It totally caught me off guard.”

Shortly before arriving back at the plant from lunch McGruder received a text warning him something may happen. Following McGruder as he and his fianc e Ellise Nichols walked hand-in-hand into the plant were members of the Eaton military support team and 29 military veterans who also work at the plant. McGruder, the only active military member currently working at Eaton, said support before, during and after his deployments has been tremendous. He received weekly care packages from the plant and frequent emails from Bailey.

McGruder started at Eaton in October 2014 and was later promoted to a production supervisor, but because of back-to-back deployments, worked less than one year at the plant. McGruder has been in the military for seven years and on active duty for four years. The South Dakota native returned to Kearney Easter weekend. Wednesday is the first time in Kearney Eaton s history the plant shut down to recognize an employee military member, Bailey said.

“A teammate coming back from deployment is more important than making a profit,” he said.

The Eaton plant manufactures precision intake and exhaust valves for automotive companies and gears that go into differential axles, boats and all-terrain vehicles.

Target, states reach $18.5 million settlement on data breach

NEW YORK | Target Corp. has reached an $18.5 million settlement over a massive data breach that occurred before Christmas in 2013, New York’s attorney general announced Tuesday. The agreement involving 47 states, including South Dakota, and the District of Columbia is the largest multistate data breach settlement to date, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office said. The settlement, which stipulates some security measures the retailer must adhere to, resolves the states’ probe into the breach. A news release from South Dakota Attorney General Jackley said South Dakota will receive $174,248 as part of the settlement.

This is a strong reminder that data breaches are sadly becoming more common and we must all guard against those who attempt to take personal identifying information and cause financial harm. Every consumer in South Dakota should get in the habit of accessing their free credit report to be alerted on matters affecting their credit, Jackley said in the release.

There are five Target stores in South Dakota, including one in Rapid City. Target spokeswoman Jenna Reck said in a statement that the company has been working with state authorities for several years to address claims related to the breach.

“We’re pleased to bring this issue to a resolution for everyone involved,” she said. Target had announced the breach on Dec. 19, 2013, saying it occurred between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 of that year. It affected more than 41 million customer payment card accounts and exposed contact information for more than 60 million customers.

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The breach forced Target to overhaul its security system and the company offered free credit reports for potentially affected shoppers. Target’s sales, profit and stock price all suffered months after the disclosure as shoppers were nervous about their security of their credit cards. The breach also contributed to the departure of Target’s then-CEO, chairman and president Gregg Steinhafel, who resigned in May 2014. CEO Brian Cornell took the helm in August 2014. Target’s data breach was the first in a series of scams that hit other retailers including SuperValu and Home Depot. It forced the retail industry, banks and card companies to increase security and sped the adoption of microchips into U.S. credit and debit cards. An investigation by the states found that in November 2013, scammers got access to Target’s server through credentials stolen from a third-party vendor. They used those credentials to take advantage of holes in Target’s systems, accessing a customer service database and installing malware that was used to capture data, including full customer names, telephone numbers, email and mailing addresses, credit card numbers, expiration dates and encrypted debit PINs.

The settlement requires Target to maintain appropriate encryption policies and take other security steps, though the company has already implemented those measures. Reck said the costs of the settlement are reflected in the reserves that Target has previously disclosed.

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