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Christopher Bjorke, Forum Communications, Published December 05 2012

‘He was just a soldier’s soldier’

Darren Linde attained the rank of sergeant first class in the North Dakota National Guard, but he also earned the important titles of “Grandpa” and “Papa Bear.”

“Those are terms of endearment that he did not take lightly,” said 1st Sgt. Kurt Schwind, an instructor with Linde at the Camp Grafton Training Center near Devils Lake. “Not everyone gets a nickname.”

A 41-year-old father of four, Linde got his nicknames for being older than most of the soldiers he served with and trained, but also for putting his safety after that of his comrades.

“Sgt. Linde would think of himself last,” Schwind said. “It’s a very rare thing to be as selfless as Sgt. Linde.”

Linde died Monday when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle. Spc. Tyler J. Orgaard, 20, of Bismarck, was also killed, and Spc. Ian Placek, 23, also of Bismarck, was wounded.

Guard members remembered Linde for his qualities as a soldier and his traits as a mentor, but the news of the North Dakota Guard’s first casualties since 2006 also reminds the public that soldiers are still in dangerous war zones.

Mentor

Sgt. Heather Barta of Bismarck had Linde as her squad leader when she was deployed in Iraq in 2007 as a new member of the National Guard, and appreciated an older comrade willing to help younger soldiers adjust to their mission.

“I feel like he took a chance with me and had faith in me when I was feeling short,” said Barta, who last saw him at a Guard send-off in Bismarck in April.

Many saw him as a mentor in a platoon in which the average age was about 20.

“They’re definitely missing him. A lot of the younger soldiers looked up to him,” she said of the Guard members who knew Linde.

Barta also remembers Linde as a fun character who always tried to lighten the mood and someone who always talked about his kids and missed home “just like anyone else.”

Linde’s teenage daughter Alexis Fleener can be seen singing a tribute to her father’s military service four months ago in a YouTube recording that has picked up many page views and sympathetic comments since Tuesday.

“What would we be without a man like you?” she sings in the online video.

Dangerous job

The deaths of Linde and Orgaard remind the public of the military’s work in Afghanistan as the strategy in the war has shifted toward exit planning, other Guard members said.

Their unit, the 818th Engineer Company, headquartered in Williston, arrived in Afghanistan in June, according to the North Dakota Guard. The unit was clearing a road of explosives when the attack happened.

“Their job, if need be, is to sacrifice themselves for the well-being of others,” said Calie Craddock, a Guard member and Veterans Affairs employee in Fargo who has been in touch with the unit. “When we volunteer with a volunteer military, this is the risk.”

Craddock works with a project at North Dakota State University that provides letters and care packages to the 818th.

“We thought we’d kind of adopt them,” said Aida Martinez-Freeman, who works with the program. “Now they’re really going to need our care.”

Schwind said Linde was a talented instructor at Camp Grafton, where he trained soldiers in explosive clearing work. He had worked there full time since 2009, and it was a job he loved and was dedicated to.

Though the loss of soldiers is accepted as part of the work, “I don’t even think the shock has sunk in yet,” Schwind said.

“He was just a soldier’s soldier,” he said. “You cannot replace Sgt. 1st Class Linde.”


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Christopher Bjorke writes for the Grand Forks Herald