Soldier leaves university to fight, heal others in Iraq

Alicia Brown

Alicia Brown

Part 1 of 4 in a series– A soldier shipping out- A soldier in Iraq- A soldier home from war- Support groups help

Nate Graff, a 19-year-old from Sioux Falls, has always wanted to go into the army.

Graff likes the band Incubus, watches football on Sunday afternoons and is debating about switching his major to political science.

But as a soldier in the Minnesota National Guard, Graff is going to Iraq. He left Sept. 20 for mobilization at Fort Dix, N.J.

Graff, who joined the army during his junior year at Sioux Falls Washington High School, is a combat medic with Company 151 Field Artillery Battalion. While he is in Iraq, he will be treating injuries ranging from headaches and rashes, to shrapnel wounds, bullet wounds and amputations.

Graff’s unit will be provide convoy security, riot control, SWAT-team like building searches, and protection for Iraqi politicians and visiting dignitaries.

“Medics are expected to do just as much fighting as healing,” Graff said.

Graff considered attending SDSU his freshman year after he graduated from high school. Instead he decided to major in nursing at USDSU in Sioux Falls during the 2003 fall semester.

“I wasn’t able to get in for housing at SDSU because the army was talking about sending us to train (for deployment) so I didn’t want to make any commitments,” he said.

When Graff’s parents, Tim and Joyce, first heard of their son’s impending deployment to Iraq, they were saddened.

“My first reaction was fear, and probably still is the foremost in my mind,” Joyce Graff said. “I have talked to soldiers returning from Iraq, and they have calmed some of my fears. Now, I think of the experiences he will have and how he will carry those for all time.”

A year ago, Graff began dating Allison Mielke, now a sophomore apparel merchandising major at SDSU. They met through mutual friends and had been dating only a few months when Graff received orders from the National Guard to report for training.

He was sent to San Antonio, Texas, for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) that lasted from February until June. Graff described AIT as a program of Warrior Ethos (Warrior Spirit), “to train every soldier as a soldier first, instead of a medic before a soldier, or administrator before a soldier.”

While at AIT, Graff kept in touch with Mielke through letters and daily cell phone convesations. Graff returned to South Dakota shortly after Mielke completed her first year at SDSU.

“My parents thought I might be deployed after 9/11. Allison thought after I got back from AIT. I always expected to get deployed since April 2002, when I signed up,” said Graff.

News of Graff’s deployment was difficult for Mielke to accept.

“I started crying and I couldn’t talk to him on the phone,” she said.

“I didn’t like it, but I was more calm than she was,”Graff said about his deployment news.

Communication overseas will be more challenging than it was to Texas during Graff’s time at AIT. The cell phone conversations will be less frequent, but the couple can also keep in touch through email.

Before leaving for Iraq, Graff will spend from one to three months at Fort Dix, N.J., and possibly up to one month in Kuwait.

Graff said our society will learn from the Iraq war.

“The only thing good that comes out of war is that a generation sees it and experiences it, so it knows it (war) is not something to be rushed into,” Graff said.

Graff expects to change as a result of his service in Iraq.

“When you look into somebody’s eyes that you don’t know and see that they want nothing more than for you to be dead or the first time I see a soldier whose wounds I can’t treat … I just think it’s hard not to change after seeing that,” Graff said.

Graff plans to continue his college education, possibly at SDSU, when he returns from Iraq.

Mielke will continue to support her soldier boyfriend as part of her academic routine at SDSU.

#1.886011:365451329.jpg:soldiermug.jpg:Nate Graff: