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Randy and Jason McCuskey: Following in the footsteps of their fathers

Both Randy and Jason McCuskey were a part of the 148th Air National Guard and spent time on deployment in the Middle East.

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Veteran Randy McCuskey, far left, of Holyoke, during his first deployment with the 148th Air National Guard at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War in the early 1990s. McCuskey joined the 148th in 1974 during his senior year of high school. (Contributed photo / Randy McCuskey)
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Joining the military has benefitted all aspects of Randy and Jason McCuskey’s lives. Randy joined the 148th Air National Guard in 1974, and his son, Jason, did the same during his senior year of high school in 2000.

Veterans Day 2021: A salute to service

“The reason I joined is kind of following the family footsteps: my dad was in, my uncle was in, and it was kind of something I wanted to do,” Jason said.

The McCuskeys are Carlton County natives, being from Holyoke. Jason now lives in Atkinson.

Jason was not the only one following in his father’s footsteps. Randy's father was a Korean War veteran, one of the main reasons he chose to join.

“I found this was the best way to follow in his footsteps and still learn what he did,” Randy said.

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Father and son veterans Randy McCuskey, left, and Jason McCuskey shared their military experience over coffee in Cloquet on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. The Carlton County natives both served in the 148th Air National Guard, joining during their senior years in high school. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

Randy’s daughter, Daisha, also joined the 148th, where she was part of a medical squad. She was deployed to the Caribbean where she was a medic helping children on a hospital ship. Daisha is now a nurse with Essentia Health in Duluth.

Being from a military family, Randy said he was supportive of his children joining the military.

“One thing about the military family, is that is what they are, they are a family,” he said. “I saw the benefits that are involved with it, and I wanted my son to reap those benefits.”

Randy and Jason agreed that being involved in the military gives people life skills.

"The whole military structure changes you as a person in a way," Jason said. "You learn that structure and keep that going, even down to keeping on time for doing things."

Deployment

Both McCuskeys served in the Middle East. Randy was deployed to Saudi Arabia and Jason was deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.

Jason was a fireman for the guard and served alongside aircraft.

“We were support for the boots on the ground for the Army and Marines,” he said. “Being a firefighter, anywhere that the Air Force lands airplanes, we have to have fire protection.”

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Jason worked in all types of fire protection, from driving fire trucks to overseeing the whole department's training.

Being away from family was one of the hardest parts about being deployed overseas, Jason said.

“My last (deployment) I was married with our first kid, and that makes it a little more difficult,” he said. “You miss them.”

The technology available made it easier for Jason , as he was able to Facetime with his family just about every day.

During Randy's deployment in the First Gulf War, he didn’t have the same technology as his son did, but he was able to call home.

“We were able to call once a day, if we had time,” he said. “I think that was the toughest part of my deployments, was being away from the family.”

Like his son, Randy was part of a support group. He was part of a civil engineer squadron, which helped build roads, electrical and plumbing systems, and equipment operation.

Life after deployment

Both the McCuskeys said people were excited for them to come home after their deployments.

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“I think the patriotism in the country changed since Vietnam. People appreciated us doing what we were doing,” Randy said. “I know the Vietnam vets ran into a lot of struggle coming home.”

Randy is now the commander of the Carlton Veterans of Foreign Wars, and with that, he interacts with veterans from all eras.

“It is hard to talk to veterans, Vietnam veterans, on their job and what they did,” he said. “If some of them do share, it is extremely difficult for them.”

Everyone is more aware of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder nowadays, Randy said, and people want to help veterans living with it.

Compared to the Vietnam War era, Jason said there are now counselors available to speak to someone about their service. He encourages veterans who think they may need help to get it.

“If you feel like you need help seek it out, it’s available everywhere,” he said. “It’s not just PTSD, with a lot of different problems.”

As both of them were part of support groups, rather than being on the front lines, Jason said it was easier for them to come home compared to others.

"Being in that support role, there's a lot of that stuff that we don't see that happens on the front line," he said. "We don't have some of those demons that some of those others have."

A loss in the family

Randy had a first cousin, Matthew Pionk, who was killed while on duty in Iraq 11 years ago.

“He was my godchild,” he said. “There was eight of them that walked into a building and the building blew up.”

Pionk grew up in Superior, Wisconsin, and his death still affects Randy.

“It hit hard, I still get emotional,” he said. “It makes you want to appreciate your veterans even more."

Veterans Day

As a military family involved in veterans service organizations, Veterans Day is important to the McCuskeys.

“It means a lot to me, I see what the veterans go through and what they have sacrificed,” Randy said.

Jason looks at Veterans Day as an opportunity to thank all the veterans out there for what they have done, "from people my age and younger, to your Korean vets, World War II vets that are still around,” he said.

Related Topics: PEOPLECARLTON COUNTY
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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