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Keith Bryhne, of Fort Dodge

FD native fixed trucks and flew helicopters during Army career

November 2, 2012
By BILL SHEA, , Messenger News

Keith Bryhne had only been in Iraq for a couple of hours one evening in 2008 when explosions rattled the military base that would be his home for the next six months.

His roommate, who had been in Iraq for awhile, merely rolled over in his bunk.

That was the Fort Dodge man's introduction to an outpost troops called ''Mortarritaville'' because of the frequent attacks by insurgents using mortars.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Keith Bryhne, a U.S. Army veteran from Fort Dodge, poses with a flag he was given upon his discharge.

His stay at the base, properly known as Logistics Support Area Anaconda, was the climax of a 25-year military career during which he fixed trucks, jumped out of airplanes and flew helicopters.

He said he's aware that others have sacrificed much more for their country.

''I just want to give some recognition out to the guys who didn't make it home alive from the wars,'' he said.

Bryhne is a native of Fort Dodge who graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1985.

''I just always wanted to go into the military since I was a kid,'' he said.

His father, Karsten Bryhne, and his brother, Kurt Bryhne, were in the Army. The Army, he said, also offered a two-year enlistment period, which meant he could return to civilian life fairly quickly if he decided he didn't like the military.

Bryhne completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and learned to be a truck mechanic at the same base. He was assigned to an American base in Ansbach, West Germany, where he maintained all kinds of military vehicles.

He then decided he wanted to be a paratrooper.

''I've always kind of been an adrenaline junkie,'' he said.

He was assigned to an airborne infantry unit of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. He made 35 parachute jumps in about a year.

''The first time I was screaming like a little girl,'' he said. ''I was scared.''

He was at Fort Bragg from 1987 through 1988, then got out of the active duty Army. He returned to Iowa and began working on an associate's degree in electronics from Iowa Central Community College. He also joined the Iowa Army National Guard aviation unit in Boone. After spending about a year fixing the unit's helicopters, Byrhne decided he wanted to fly them.

He was accepted into the flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala, At that school, soldiers complete three years worth of civilian flight training in one year., he said Lots of prospective pilots wash out of the program. Bryhne did not. He graduated and was promoted to the rank of chief warrant officer.

Upon returning to the unit in Boone, he began flying the UH-1 Iroqouis helicopter, which was nicknamed the ''Huey'' by troops in Vietnam.

His National Guard work included helping law enforcement officers spot marijuana fields from the air. For five summers he carried sheriff's deputies and Drug Enforcement Administration agents in his helicopter while they scanned the ground in search of marijuana plants.

The next phase of Bryhne's military career was with the 158th Aviation Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Kansas. In that outfit he flew the CH-47 Chinook, the Army's biggest helicopter.

In 2008, he volunteered for duty in Iraq. That brought him to 'Mortarritaville' north of Baghdad.

''We were the most heavily attacked base in Iraq,'' he said. ''We got mortared, we got attacked, on average, every other day.''

In addition to explosive mortar rounds, the base was also struck regularly by bullets fired randomly in the air by insurgents. He knew soldiers who were hit by such random rounds as they lay in their bunks.

Bryhne's job was to oversee all aspects of his unit's work during an overnight shift that lasted from 11 p.m. to 10 a.m.

Although he was a helicopter pilot, his unit in Iraq had planes which carried passengers and cargo. One of those planes was a jet reserved for the use of Army Gen. David Petraeus, who was the top commander in Iraq at the time.

Bryhne said he went out on about two flights a week.

''I've basically been all over the country of Iraq,'' he said.

When he wasn't on duty or working out at the gym, Bryhne volunteered to work in the emergency room at the base hospital. Years earlier, he had volunteered in the emergency room of Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge and was trained as an emergency medical technician (basic).

''It was literally like the TV program M*A*S*H where you just get bombarded with the helicopters bringing in the wounded,'' he said.

The toughest part, he said, was taking care of troops who were so badly wounded that he knew they would not survive.

At the hospital, he also treated Iraqi civilians and insurgents.

''Due to the Geneva Convention, we treat a lot of enemy fighters also,'' he said.

Before he left Iraq in October 2008, Bryhne suffered some injuries. He declines to talk about them, other than to say he spent a year and a half recuperating in the Wounded Warrior Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. He retired from the Army in 2010 and returned to Fort Dodge.

''Thankfully, society has changed and all the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans got a nice welcome home,'' he said. ''We all appreciate that. But the Vietnam veterans didn't get that, so I'd like to say a special thank you to all the Vietnam veterans.''

Bryhne is now a volunteer with the Church of the Damascus Road at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.



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