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Specialist Andy Freeman REEMAN stands atop a patrol vehicle where he served as gunner to help protect convoys carrying supplies between bases. Inset, Freeman and wife Ashley Freeman are reunited.

The morning a pair of jetliners struck and brought down the twin World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, 9-year-old Andy Freeman was in Tracy O’Brien’s fourth-grade classroom at Murray Park Elementary School.

Fifteen years later to that very day, Staff Sgt. Andy Freeman ended his six-year stint with the U.S. Army, after having served his country by risking his life, multiple times, while stationed near Kabul, Afghanistan.

This November 11, 2021 — on the heels of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 — so many men and women deserve our recognition and respect.

But today, we honor Sgt. Freeman, one of our own.

The 2010 Ripon High School alumnus is the son of Ripon residents Peggy and Rod Freeman. He married Ashley Bierman, whose parents are Ripon native Karen Jahnke Bruins and Green Lake resident Mike Bierman.

Soon after leaving the classrooms of Tiger Drive, Freeman traded the tutelage of Principal Dan Tjernagel for the care of a guy whose first name is Uncle and last name is Sam.

A year after enlisting in the Army National Guard, Freeman was dispatched to a country 6,000 miles and a lifetime away from his boyhood home on Woodside Avenue. Now a police officer in Deforest, Wis., Freeman told the editor of the local paper there this fall that he joined the army to help pay for college and to make his family proud.

Mission accomplished on both fronts.

But first came basic training and then deployment, along with others from the 1157th Transportation Company — a unit Ripon-area residents know too well — to Bagram Air Base, 30 miles north of the Afghanistan capital of Kabul.

While there, Freeman was a gunner; his job was to protect convoys that often carried civilian provisions — water, mail, equipment — between bases. Freeman’s missions lasted between three days and two weeks and were almost always at night, to reduce the risk to the four or five gun trucks used to protect the convoy’s semi trucks and trailers.

The convoys traveled at about 5 mph, scouting for roadside bombs that, if activated, would halt the procession, allowing Taliban to attack.

Freeman still has occasional nightmares from those adrenaline-fueled excursions during which he and his buddies’ lives where threatened by direct fire and startled by sirens warning of possible missile attacks.

He returned to Ripon after a year, ready to resume college — he had a semester at Edgewood College under his belt before his deployment — marry his girlfriend, Ashley Bierman, and move to the Madison area for her work and his education in criminal justice at Madison Area Technical College.

Freeman held several jobs in corrections, graduated from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement Academy, worked as a sheriff’s deputy and then became a patrol officer with the city of Deforest Police Department.

All the while he continued to serve Uncle Sam, as an instructor and then a driver for a mechanic company. A desire to be an attentive father and husband caused Freeman not to renew his Army National Guard contract, with expired in 2016.

While Freeman is glad the United States is out of Afghanistan, he is disappointed in how the exit was handled. “For us to have it return to what it was pre-war now, with the Taliban now having more assets than they did before — it’s a kick in the knees,” he told the Deforest Times-Tribune.

Freeman now is on the dean’s list as he plans to receive his criminal justice degree from Upper Iowa University next year.

While America must continue to examine its role and disappointing exit from Afghanistan, it also must celebrate the sacrifices made by those who went over there, noting that some never returned.

And we in Ripon can pause today to thank them all, including one of our own, whose surname is a reminder of why so many have given so much to their country.

Godspeed, Sgt. Freeman, as you continue to serve your family and country, while making us all proud and grateful.

— Tim Lyke

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