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Features Relays Edition

Veteran enlisted young, returns a changed man

Photo courtesy of Lanon Baccam

Lanon Baccam grew up in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, with his parents and older sisters. His family immigrated to the United States from Laos in 1979. His family members risked their lives to escape the repressive communist movement in Laos at the time, giving Baccam a profound sense of patriotism for his family’s new country.

To ensure that his family’s emigration from Laos was not in vain, Baccam joined the Iowa Army National Guard when he was 17.

“I joined the military because my parents always instilled in me how great this country is. I wanted to protect those freedoms and opportunities,” Baccam said.

Baccam was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2004. He was stationed with the 834th Engineering Company, a small group of only 40 men.

His title was “combat engineer,” which included the primary task of discovering unexploded bombs and detonating them in the desert. His duties also included managing local laborers and Afghan nationals, managing construction on the base and constructing buildings and roads within the Afghan community.

Baccam’s most vivid memory from his time in Kandahar included searching for an improvised explosive device in a local school. Baccam’s boss sent him on a mission to find and diffuse the explosive. The bomb was ultimately discovered in a small computer monitor inside the school. After discovering the device, Baccam was instructed to dismantle and diffuse it.

“These memories become images implanted on the brain because they’re so intense,” Baccam said.

Because of the environment soldiers are in, Baccam says it made him grow up really quickly.

“There’s no time to worry about the social ins and outs of relationships. There’s Facebook, but there’s no, ‘Who’s party were you at last night?’” Baccam said. “You can’t even go to the corner to buy a snickers bar or a can of pop. You’re only focused on the mission.”

Baccam said this caused him to become accountable to the demands of a job. He said the overall experience, was a net gain for him.

“War becomes an experience that can’t be replicated outside of the environment itself,” Baccam said.

While Baccam gained crucial life skills from his deployment, his time spent in Afghanistan was strenuous.

“For any deployment into a combat zone, it’s an emotional and physical toll,” Baccam said.

Baccam’s family was scared for his safety, but he was able to speak to his parents almost on a weekly basis. Baccam said the military did a good job of making sure that the soldiers were taken care of. He had a lot of opportunities to use the phone and computer to contact home.

“I think it made us closer and our relationships stronger.”

Baccam’s sister Lou was scared, nervous and uncertain when her brother announced he was being deployed.

“He always remained confident about his deployment and that sense of conviction gave me some comfort,” Lou Baccam said.

Lou agrees that her brother’s deployment brought their family closer together.

“He was in so many ways a hero,” she said. “He was very selfless and eager to go to


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