SPRINGFIELD – Jon Fleek could only wait helplessly while a fellow soldier was caught in Taliban fire during a mission in Afghanistan.
Heavy support arrived for relief, and the medic returned with the wounded Afghan soldier.
“Our medic didn’t say anything, and he just had this look on his face,” Fleek said. “Then I looked at his front side, and he was covered in blood. All his medical pouches were hit with bullets, but he wasn’t hit himself. All the blood on him came from the Afghan soldier.”
Fleek’s sense of relief turned to frustration when the medic didn’t receive any formal commendation or other recognition for his heroism.
“From that moment, I promised that, if I could ever help it, I would see that a veteran got the recognition he deserved,” Fleek said.
Fleek now works as a corrections officer at Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield. Keeping his promise to himself, he provided free food Wednesday to fellow MDSP corrections officers who were veterans and working on Veterans Day.
“Our staff has veterans of wars ranging from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. We had about a dozen of them that were working on Veterans Day,” he said.
“This day is really for them. They don’t get a lot of recognition, and I wanted to give them what they should be getting.”
Fleek wasn’t scheduled to work Veterans Day as part of his alternating holiday schedule. He devoted his day off to his fellow veterans rather than use it for personal time or relaxation.
He came up with the idea of providing a free meal. He received permission from prison officials, but he needed to change course with his plans.
“I talked about providing a catered or home-cooked meal, but time just flew by and I didn’t get it done,” he said. “Then, I thought about buying doughnuts or pizzas. At the last minute, my mom (Julie Fleek) and I threw it together.”
Even those plans took a new direction, Fleek said.
“I was going to pay for it out of my own pocket,” he said. “My mom said I should contact local businesses for donations.”
Julie Fleek took on the task of soliciting food donations.
“I live in Tea, and I thought of Pizza Ranch (in Yankton) because our (franchise) in Tea donates food for things,” she said. “I called up (the Yankton restaurant) and asked about it. They said, sure, they would provide 15 pizzas. I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting that kind of response.”
The Fleeks found similar positive responses from area businesses. Casey’s convenience store in Springfield donated doughnuts and cookies for breakfast, while Buche’s grocery store in Tyndall donated meat and cheese trays.
In addition, two Springfield financial institutions donated to the cause. First Savings Bank donated pop, paper plates and napkins bought at Doug’s Food Center in Springfield. The Services Center Federal Credit Union donated $35 for gas and other expenses.
“I was really surprised,” Jon Fleek said.
He started his marathon day of deliveries before sunrise. He picked up the doughnuts and cookies at 5:30 a.m. and delivered it for the prison’s morning shift. He arrived in Yankton during late morning, picking up pizzas for the prison guards’ lunch. He made a return trip to Yankton in the afternoon, picking up the rest of the pizzas for the guards working the evening and overnight shifts.
Pizza Ranch co-manager Becky Plautz said the restaurant was happy to be part of the project.
“This is a great cause, and we’re happy to do it,” she said. “It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ for (the veterans’) service. They do so much for us, and they deserve it.”
While he had indicated his intentions of bringing free food, Fleek said his arrival still surprised the guards. But his fellow corrections officers were grateful and literally ate up his offerings.
Fleek thinks it made a difference that the token of appreciation came from a fellow corrections officer.
“Veterans are not generally big on taking handouts,” he said. “When it comes to businesses offering free meals, the veterans are humble. They don’t go looking for free meals, but (the MDSP officers) knew who I was and why I was doing it.”
Fleek saw the gesture as part of his nature.
“I have always been more of a liking to give than receive,” he said. “And being a veteran myself, it would mean a lot if someone brought me something.”
A SPECIAL DAY
Veterans Day holds a special meaning for Fleek, as he comes from a family of veterans including his father and younger brother.
Jon sees his fellow MDSP veterans as continuing their sense of military duty to a different arena with their prison work.
“These men served their country, and now they’re serving their state. They’re still in uniform,” he said. “I think, once you join the military and get used to doing something for the greater good, it’s hard to get out of that (sense of service). Law enforcement is a good calling for that person.”
Jon no longer serves in the military. However, he continues watching developments in Afghanistan and other hot spots around the globe.
The United States faces a continued battle in the war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan, he said.
“A lot of people don’t pay attention to it anymore,” he said. “It’s just go on so much that people are putting in on the backburner.”
For that reason, Fleek has strengthened his resolve to give veterans the recognition they deserve – even something as simple as providing the free Veterans Day meal on Wednesday.
“For the corrections officers, I hope it’s a morale booster for them and gives them a lift,” he said.
“When you work at the prison, a holiday is just another day. I want my fellow officers and veterans to feel recognized on this day.”