Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for May 30, 2011 - 1st Sgt. Mark D. Heyliger

First Sergeant Mark D. Heyliger

Current Unit: Task Force 1, Team 20, Joint Readiness Training Center
Current Position: First Sergeant
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Fort Polk, La.
Hometown: South Bend, Ind.
Years of Service: 19

With nearly two decades of military service and five deployments under his belt, 1st Sgt. Mark D. Heyliger is an experienced Soldier. Through it all, the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) remains committed to the Army and his comrades in arms. In his current role at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., Heyliger draws on lessons learned during his time downrange to help prepare other NCOs for what lie ahead.

“I am responsible for training and mentoring Reinforcement Training Unit first sergeants in preparation for their upcoming deployments,” he said. “I hope that my experience and expertise makes their deployments smoother.”

Working his way up through the infantry ranks, Heyliger served with the 25th Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division and was exposed to a wide variety of mission demands and leadership styles. For meritorious service throughout his military career, Heyliger has received the Bronze Star Medal three times.

In 2009-2010, he served in Iraq as the first sergeant for Company B, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment 82nd Airborne Division. There, he was responsible for the health, welfare, morale and training of the more than 130 Soldiers in the company.

“I had a different level of responsibility during each deployment. My experiences were varied and my days depended on what was going on at that particular time,” Heyliger said. “But my responsibility to accomplish the mission and take care of my fellow Soldiers never changed.”

Commitment to the mission and one’s brothers in arms is an Army value that has withstood the test of time. Heyliger’s grandfather answered that same Call to Duty when he served during World War II.

His grandfather was Frederick Heyliger, better known as “Moose”—a Soldier with the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment portrayed in the book and HBO mini-series, “Band of Brothers.” Before he enlisted in 1992, the younger Heyliger did not know much about his grandfather’s story of service.

“He never talked about what he did during the war, but my dad mailed me a book while I was on recruiting duty. He said, ‘If you ever want to know what your grandfather did, you need to read this book,’” he said. “I was amazed at the depth of his experiences, though I understood why he chose not to talk about it much.”

While Heyliger’s grandfather participated in two airborne operations during World War II, he passed away before he could become a paratrooper. Heyliger received his jump wings when he graduated from Airborne School and in 2004, he wore the wings when he jumped into St. Mere Eglise, France, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

“I’m glad to serve and to carry on--to find what my grandfather enjoyed so much about the Army,” Heyliger said. “When I jump, I like to think of him.”

Heyliger will be stationed at Fort Polk for the next three years, but he hopes his Army career will eventually take him back to the 82nd Airborne Division or the 101st Airborne Division. He hopes to have the opportunity to wear his grandfather’s wings to jump into Market Garden, Holland, for the 70th anniversary in 2014.

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