Iraq war veteran honors those who served before him
ORFORDVILLE — Getting a photo and interview with Kevin Wellnitz in his shop is about as challenging as keeping up with him in a marathon. The lanky runner moves about the tidy station he bought from Bill Sathers, removing and replacing tires with the speed of an athlete, mid-course. Athletes, like veterans, make the race look effortless. The battle is as much mental as physical. And personal strength and focus come from the heroes who’ve inspired them onto the field. At least, for Wellnitz, who’s transitioning out of 11½ years of military service into his own business, this is how it seems, both in life and service. “With me, being in the military and seeing what I saw in Iraq – it’s nothing like what other veterans of wars previous experienced,” Wellnitz said. “It makes me realize how good I had it. “I know that even in Iraq for a time, there were a lot of folks out on the roads dealing with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and going door to door in searches, and that was rough, but for me, it just makes me appreciate all the more, all of the veterans of all the wars previous – World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam, even back to the Civil War,” he said. “Just serving makes you see military service in a different light. It makes you appreciate veterans. It makes you want to thank them.” In his first tour in America’s long second war with Iraq, over the years 2006 into 2007, Wellnitz was an intelligence analyst for about 10 months. His task – with others assigned to help and direct military service men and women in convoys out on the roads – was to track and report conditions for those personnel in the field. It was a vitally important duty. “We were in touch with convoys on the road – telling them when the weather was bad and would mean that we wouldn’t be able to get Medivac to them if they got into a conflict, what routes to go down, what routes to avoid, reporting hot spots,” Wellnitz said. “We were making sure convoys that went out had as much information as possible so they could make it to the next location safely and make it back home.” In sheer numbers of U.S. combatants who lost their lives, Wellnitz’ personal regard for Americans who endured through past conflicts is punctuated by the enormous loss of life in much shorter time periods. All service members involved in combat, from the birth of the nation forward, have suffered the image of fallen comrades in battle. U.S. service members killed from the 2003 Iraq invasion through 2014 numbered almost 4,500, according to the Department of Defense. About 174,000 Iraqi civilian and combatant deaths were recorded from the time the United States invaded up to 2013, according to a conservative “Iraq Body Count” data base. In one year, 1917 to 1918, of U.S. participation in the bloody trench warfare of World War I, more than 53,000 U.S. combat deaths were recorded. Almost 292,000 American military service members gave their lives in combat during WWII between 1941 and 1945. The U.S. combat death toll in Korea was nearly 33,700 (1950 to 1953) and in 20 years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, more than 47,000 service personnel gave their lives in conflict (1955 to 1975). U.S. military deaths in the Civil War topped 750,000 between 1861 and 1865. “In my first service in Iraq, I saw a lot of stuff secondhand; we did have mortar rounds fired at us from time to time where I was based, but it was nothing like what those who served in the military in past wars experienced,” Wellnitz said. “Just watching the news, television doesn’t come close to portraying the truth as far as what the military does,” he said. “I can’t stand television news. They portray what gets them attention, not what’s really gone on. I don’t watch TV.” In Wellnitz’ second tour in Iraq, he was a chief warrant officer helping the military get as much materiel and supplies as possible, back to the United States, as our nation began to undertake withdrawal from Iraq. During the 11.5 years he was in the military, Wellnitz completed a mechanical engineering degree with a minor in business at UW Platteville. In Rock County, the Wellnitz name is prominent for its contributions for many decades to the dairy community. His parents, Joe and Patti, whose farm is on Orfordville-Hanover Road, hosted the year 2000 Dairy Breakfast. While in school, Wellnitz came home many weekends to help with the farm. In his last years of service in the Army Reserve, he hit upon a way to meld his varied interests and abilities in his own business in his hometown. Bill Sather, who operated Sather’s Service Station, 203 W. Brodhead in Orfordville, for 43 years after acquiring the business his father R.W. Sather started, retired in 2013. Sather sold his gas station and garage to Wellnitz that year. “I keep busy,” Wellnitz said. “I give myself a lot to do. I’ll probably just be working on Veteran’s Day. I have to. “I like to support businesses that give military discounts. I like to thank them for honoring our veterans. I hope to be able to do something like that myself once I get my own business more established.” New tires, tire repairs, oil changes, small engine repairs and gas purchases are demanding Wellnitz’ attention more and more as he’s left military service; he refers vehicle owners with bigger mechanical challenges to Kevin Holcomb’s garage nearby. Wellnitz’ shop is open 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; closed Sundays. Wellnitz has kept restoring and improving the fine old brick service station and its three-bay garage, built in 1926. He lives upstairs and looks to eventual marriage with his fiancé and steady progress in his business. He wants to acid wash and re-tuck point the brick exterior. He’s kept the name of his predecessor with the Sather name in signage flanked by American flags, properly lighted at night. They’re flying for those who served this nation before him, for the country and its values all veterans have sacrificed to preserve, for all those in all conflicts we should thank.