Richard Kargel has lived in the Isle community for years, and his history in the Mille Lacs extends back to childhood trips to the family cabin in McGrath. People may know him for the family of three children he and his wife raised in the area or for his recently started fish guide service. But an equally important part of his life story has been his military service. Kargel has served both a six-year stint in the Army as well as 16 years in the Minnesota National Guard. Those years of service were paramount in guiding the person Kargel is today, and he was ready and willing to speak on the life lessons he took from the military.
Kargel joined the military two and a half weeks after graduating from high school in June of 1986, starting in the active Army. He did his basic training and job training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Following his training, Kargel’s first duty station was at Fort Sill.
Kargel said his first stint of service started in years of peace time. He was stationed in Fort Sill until March of ‘89 when he was moved to South Korea. The Gulf War began in 1990 while Kargel was in Korea. He was a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) crew member. “That was the new artillery of the day,” he said. There were two roles on these crews, he explained, hauling ammo or being a launcher crew member. Kargel had started off hauling ammo before moving to a launcher as a driver. Eventually, Kargel became the section chief of a launcher crew. “Right at the end, I was acting platoon sergeant,” he said, explaining that he had replaced another sergeant who had gone on leave.
Kargel was stop-lossed while in South Korea, meaning his service was extended an additional year. In the fall of ‘91, he returned to Fort Sill, where he trained new soldiers with the MLRS. Kargel explained that he had made rank fast while in Korea, arriving as an E-4 and leaving as an E-6. “At the time, aside from the Gulf War, there wasn’t any conflict,” he said. The only way to separate yourself was to check certain boxes. That’s why I fought to get into the school house [for MRLS training].” Doing so allowed Kargel a natural progression to continue to make rank.
Kargel stayed in the school house position for about eight months. He was up for re-enlistment at that time but had received another job offer back home. Kargel was recently married, having met his wife, Un Mi, in South Korea, and the thought of settling down was on his mind. His stint with the Army came to an end in June of 1992. “I thought it was the right thing to do,” Kargel said, “so I got out.”
“But I missed it every day,” Kargel continued. About 10 years later, Kargel spoke with a friend he had served with in South Korea, who was now in the Iowa National Guard. Hearing his friend’s experiences, Kargel decided to join the National Guard himself.
He was hired in the Minnesota National Guard, working full-time from September 2003 until October 2017. He started with recruiting command and worked as a recruiter for many years. He worked in both Cambridge and St. Cloud, and then Cloquet. While in Cloquet, a unit was deployed to Iraq and Kargel was asked to fill the open E-7 position. “So I did,” he said. “I had only a month and a half to get ready, versus a year like they had.”
Kargel deployed with the first of the 94th Cavalry in Kuwait in July of 2011. “At that time, it was the end of the Gulf War,” he said, “actually Operation New Dawn.” He was assigned as a Battle Non-commissioned officer (NCO), and his work involved running convoy security, which involved moving equipment out of Iraq into Kuwait. He did both an 11-day mission and a three-day mission in Iraq. The deployment ended April 2012.
Comparing the two bouts he spent overseas, Kargel said that Korea was a tense and volatile situation, but it wasn’t an actual wartime situation. “It was a different era with different uniforms, everything was different. It wasn’t in the present tense, like the deployment was.” Unlike Korea, Kargel said he was wearing body armor in Iraq. “Of course, it was real,” he said. “People were getting blown up.”
Returning for his deployment, Kargel was sought out by the 347th Regional Support Group to take over the 114th transportation company, “the largest company in Minnesota,” Kargel said. He worked as a readiness NCO. “Basically, I ran that company in the absence of its commander,” he said. “I was the commander’s representative, and I took care of readiness. I supervised three other personnel that ran the unit, too.”
Speaking to the differences between being in the active Army and the National Guard, Kargel stated he has a real passion for the Army. “I had the opportunity to serve under leadership from the Vietnam War,” he explained, “and I learned real life skills. They were true leaders, in that they put their own soldiers ahead of their own needs. I saw real selfless service in the active Army.” The Guard, he said, comparatively, felt like it was more about one’s self and career progression rather self-sacrifice. “It was a big difference that I noticed and really didn’t like.”
He also felt the active Army had allowed for both more training and more realistic training; whereas, in the Guard, it was only a weekend or a couple weeks during the year. “The active Army, to me, felt like a lifestyle,” he said. “The Guard felt more like a job.”
“To this day,” he said, “I regret getting out of the active Army.” However, he continued, it felt like the right decision at the time. “In the end, it worked out for me. I did retire from the military.”
Near the end of career, Kargel also served as a casualty assistance officer, which he said may have been the hardest part of his career, but also the work he was proudest to have done. In this role, he assisted the surviving family in securing their due benefits after a member had died in service. Kargel served in this position for about a year, and the role took priority over even his daily duties.
Having gone into the military right out of high school, Kargel felt he had grown up in the military. “I know how immature and lost I was in high school,” he added with a laugh. The military had brought focus to his life, teaching him discipline and life skills. He hadn’t felt like he had self-confidence, going into the military, but the experience “showed me who I was,” he said. He had developed public speaking skills, going from not being able to speak in front of a class to leading classrooms of trainees.
While Kargel grew up in Richfield, Minn., graduating from Richfield High School, his family had a cabin near McGrath, giving him a love for the Mille Lacs area. He and Un Mi moved to McGrath in the fall of 2001 after his parents passed away. They moved to Isle five years later. Over the years, the Kargels had three children, and they now have one grandchild. They now have an apartment in Isanti to be near their granddaughter. Since his retirement from the National Guard, Kargel has been working as an operations manager for a pool restoration company in Blaine. He has also begun a fishing guide service on Mille Lacs, which he intends to devote more time to in the future.
Kargel reflected on his service: “I don’t regret a minute of it. It wasn’t always fun and games, but despite that, it really helped me mature and grow … It’s benefited me to this day.”