Harriet Veenker was not a young woman to mindlessly do what was expected. When her classmates planned to go stratight to college after high school graduation, Veenker spent a lot of time contemplating the next phase of her life.
One day, she asked to borrow her dad’s car keys and went to the Army recruiting office.
In 1974 she enlisted in the regular Army and was released from active duty in 1985.
One of Veenker’s assignements was to the Strategic Headquarters Allied Powers Europe office in Belgium. “The stuff you hear and see can be life changing,” she said.
In 1985 Veenker transferred over to the Army Reserve. She received a direct appointment to Second Lieutenant and was assigned to the AG (adjutant general) branch, which is like the human resources branch of the military.
While in the reserve, Veenker was called up to serve in the Gulf War.
She was not deployed to the middle east; she was assigned to the 329th AG Company (Postal), based out of Fort Snelling. The unit was assigned to handled the mail and packages that were sent to deployed personnel in the Gulf.
This unit was stationed at the U.S. Army post Fort Dix which is the common name for the Army Support Activity located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurstsouth-southeast of Trenton, New Jersey. Fort Dix is under the jurisdiction of the Air Force Air Mobility Command. Veenker’s unit handled the millions of tons of mail destined for troops in the Gulf War.
“My unit strived for a measured objective error rate of .0001%, which was a really ambitious goal of keeping errors to almost zero.”
Veenker’s unit was called up for the Desert Shield action, which started in 1990 and became Desert Storm in January of 1991.
They were running operations “24 x 7.”
“We were doing splendid work and not wanting to take time off,” she explained.
Veenker was the unit executive officer, second in command, and took on whatever needed to be done that the commander couldn’t take care of — managing day to day operations of the unit.
She knew Fort Dix well and knew how to get the equipment needed to handle the velocity of volume going through the base. She worked behind the scenes to make sure everything ran smoothly and that unit reports were done on time. Her status reports to leadership kept them informed about know how her unit of the reserve was working. The reserve was split between active duty and the postal service.
The volume of mail going to the Gulf was so large that Veenker’s unit was pulling civilian aircraft from the airline companies to handle it. They had 727s in a line on the tarmac; they would pull up one by one, and they had forklifts loading pallets of mail, one after another.
“People were so inspired because they knew what it meant to people in the Middle East; even though the battle was short, the support that happened afterward took a long time and deployed personnel needed to hear from the people at home.”
Veenker’s unit received a Superior Unit Citation for its work at Fort Dix.
“That is one step below a Meritorious Unit Award,” she said.
Part of what created the volume of mail and packages was the Dear Ann and Dear Abby programs that were assigned the task of making sure no deployed people stationed overseas felt that there was no one who cared.
“I recall handling a fully decorated Christmas tree and a cake that were sent. A set of golf clubs, washboards and all the kinds of things you could imagine,” Veenker recalled.
They were a postal unit that included many postmasters so the unit members knew what it took to make the assignment a success. They assigned postal zip codes for the Gulf so that boxes could go directly from the unit to wherever people were stationed. Because of the mobility of people in the Gulf it took a long time to catch up with some people.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune did an article on their unit when it became known.
Veenker retired from the military in 1997 with the rank of captain.
Veenker was living in the Twin Cities during her career in the reserve, moving to Aitkin in 2001. She and her husband, Tom Veenker love living in a small town; they were both small town people and wanted to move out of the cities when they no longer had to be there for job reasons.
Aitkin County advertised for a registered land surveyor, Tom applied and was hired; that was what brought them to Aitkin. Harriet opened her financial advisory business, Northwoods Retirement in 2005 and worked at that until she retired in 2017.
Tom is now retired too, but is still working as a township supervisor for Wealthwood Township.
Harriet Veenker has been involved in the Operation Christmas Child program since around 2015; she is still involved.
“It’s the same thing as the Gulf War missions, really. You are sending a box to someone who will treasure it, sending hope across the world.”
In addition to her volunteer work, Veenker enjoys music and plays in a worship band.