Eastern Iowan Becomes a Deputy Adjutant General of Iowa National Guard
JOHNSTON, Iowa (CBS2/Fox28) —
An eastern iowa man's roots run deep, and have guided his journey far beyond our borders in service to his country. He has reached the level of General and is now in one of the highest posts at the Iowa National Guard. His career spans five deployments overseas, though nearly all of them were never supposed to happen. Born and raised in Strawberry Point, married to his high school sweetheart, his service has taken him to places most Iowans will never see. General Ben Corell is tonight's "Person 2 Person".
"My first deployment was in 2000. I took a company security force to Saudi Arabia. We provided patriot missile battery security", said General Ben Corell. And that was supposed to be it. Ben Corell was ready to call it a career in the guard. He says, "I figured I would do my 20 years and get out, with that one deployment and then after 9/11 things changed." Because of 9-11, the national guard was called to serve in a much bigger way than before, and Corell chose to stay and do his part. "So in 2003, I took command of the 1st, the 133rd infantry battalion in Waterloo", said Corell.
His first war-time deployment sent him to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, sheltered somewhat from the intense fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But his next deployment would be much different. An announcement came by telephone that "assigned unit members must understand the decision to deploy has occurred, as a result the unit will be called to active duty". Corell says "In 2005 I got notified that the battalion has been selected to join up with a brigade combat team out of Minnesota and deploy to Iraq." It was a massive, historic, call up, one followed from start to finish by the CBS program "60 minutes". Then-Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack attended every sendoff across the state, traveling by helicopter , with a message for the troops. Vilsack said "You need to know and you must know, that as you leave here, the thoughts and prayers and hopes of the entire Iowa community are with you."
Corell prepared to leave his wife, Beth, again. On his last deployment, all three of their sons, each members of the guard, went with him, leaving her to handle the bills and obligations for the four of them. So this time, he took one son, his youngest, Tyler, who volunteered. Karen Fuller asked, "As a parent, as a commander, how do you go into harm's way with your son?" "Those soldiers that are under my command are under my care, are under my responsibility, they all have moms and cads, they all have families and loved ones back home and even though he's my son, I've never treated my sons any differently than the other sons that are part of my command", replied Corell.
What Corell didn't know was that the tour would not end as expected. A guard member announced that they "will be deployed extended up to 125 days, starting April, so that takes us to August time frame." Wives of the guard members expressed frustration, saying "They're not active Army, what about the families?" "The countdown for daddy to come home, now we have nothing, nothing at all." Worried mothers and wives grew weary from waiting. Finally, after two years away, the unit returned to Iowa. But the homecoming was bittersweet. Two guard members killed in action are among the four General Corell has lost under his command. Fuller asked "Losing a soldier, how does that affect you personally?" "When you lose a soldier it's like losing a member of your family and that stays with you. I've got the dog tags of the soldiers that have fallen under my command. They're sitting on the table over there. You have to come back and look those family members in the eye and ask yourself, did I do everything I could and in some cases, you do everything you could of, they did everything right, it's just the way it turns out and that's what war's like."
War did earn Corell a new title of Brigadier General. It was then that he served with NATO forces in Romania. It was also then that Governor Kim Reynolds called Corell home to become a Deputy Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard. Now settling into his office at the Johnston headquarters, he is surrounded by reminders of his journey. Each physical memory has a story all it's own. He says, "There was three of them on November 2006 that exploded underneath my Humvee". Fuller asked, "How did you survive?" Corell replied, "Their sight pitcher was off, so it exploded in the back part of the vehicle." There is also a cabinet holding a vast collection of military challenge coins, something treasured among all branches of the service. From his very first... "I was a private and I dug the greatest foxhole that he had seen in a long time." To the very prestigious..."Secretary of, oh Donald Rumsfeld! So when I was in Iraq I met the Secretary of Defense, and he said Corell? You're doing good work . Here's one of my coins.
Corell says he appreciates the honors, promotions, and souvenirs. But his most treasured memory is not a possession. It is the privilege, he says, of having served his country with his sons by his side. "I'm not sure it's fully absorbed in me, maybe someday when I retire and I'm sitting in my boat fishing and I can think back on it and feel pretty proud."
The General's sons, Wade, Travis and Tyler, all still serve in the National Guard and are based out of Waterloo. He and his wife Beth have built their retirement home near Harper's Ferry. But he's no where near being finished yet. He is hoping to one day command an entire division before hitting the lake.