MAPE Gulf War veteran Don Lucksinger has special plans this Veterans Day

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Local 1601’s Don Lucksinger knew as a child he wanted to serve in the military. “My family always believed in doing our part,” he said.

Don Lucksinger, Navy E-3

The Navy Gulf War veteran will be spending time with fellow service members this Veterans Day and hopes other MAPE members will, too. “I would like for people to say hello to a veteran, especially our older ones. They know their bodies have aged, but inside they are still the young, brave soldiers they once were and, if able, they would do it all again. They have amazing stories and much to offer us if we just listen,” Lucksinger added. 

Photo at  right: Local 1601's Don Lucksinger as Navy E-3 sailor in 1991.

Lucksinger, a MN HealthCare program and user support analyst with the Dept. of Human Services in Brainerd, originally thought about following in his father’s footsteps and joining the Air Force. Instead, he joined the Navy a week after graduating high school in 1989.

USS THeodore Roosevelt

Photo at left: 6,000 military members served aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

He graduated third out of 86 at boot camp and chose to attend weapons school in Millington, Tenn., so he could learn how to handle weapons on a naval carrier. “We were responsible for all of the weapons on the ship: small arms like handguns and shotguns for the ship’s self-defense force and nuclear reactor security team to bombs and missiles for the aircraft,” Lucksinger explained.       

Lucksinger and his fellow weapons specialists also assembled bombs and missiles with specific time delays to go up to the flight deck. They were assigned to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71, the carrier ship is about 1,200 feet in length and 300 feet wide with a crew of 3,000 (all men at the time) and another 3,000 men assigned to the air wing when underway.

Some of the missiles and bombs Lucksinger helped assemble

Photo at right: Some of the bombs and missiles Lucksinger helped assemble.

Lucksinger served in the Gulf War, both Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991 and later the humanitarian relief effort Operation Provide Comfort following the war. “Desert Storm stands out because I remember when the alarms sounded on the ship and we had to man our battle stations and it wasn’t a drill – that stays in your mind forever. Once that alarm sounded, it was 56 hours before I was able to leave the magazine, the location where we assembled the bombs and weapons for the aircraft. I was then allowed to sleep for six hours and we were back at it again. This went on for a solid six to eight weeks,” he said.

Commendations Lucksinger received for his service

Photo at left: Some of the commendations Lucksinger received for his service.

Lucksinger received numerous medals for his military service, including the National Defense Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal (with two bronze stars because he was in three battles) and three Navy Battle Excellence ribbons as well as commendations from both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia governments.   

Lucksinger was injured while working the bomb assembly line that was used to lift and assemble bombs weighing between 250 to 2,000 lbs. after the air pressure system failed. “The system went out, so we had to lift them by hand, and I injured my knee and back by lifting too much weight. I’ve already had one surgery related to it. Because we were handling all of these weapons and related components, many Gulf War vets have a lot of cancers and unexplained medical issues,” he said. 

Despite his injuries, Lucksinger said military service was “definitely worth it. I felt the need to serve and do my part instead of letting someone else do it.”

Lucksinger at a contract bargaining meeting earlier this year.

Photo at right: Don Lucksinger, Region 16 Negotiations Representative, at a bargaining meeting earlier this year.

Lucksinger, who has been with the Dept. of Human Services for a decade, sees similarities between his military and MAPE experiences. “A union is building a team of diverse people to stand up and protect workers’ rights. Being in the Navy you also have a diverse team of volunteer men and women who choose to stand up to those who seek to destroy our way of life. Both put others’ needs and rights ahead of their own.”

Just as his father was proud of his service, Lucksinger is proud that his oldest and youngest sons are interested in military service; 17-year-old Dillyn wants to join the Army National Guard and 14-year-old Braedyn is interested in the Navy or Air Force.