Four soldiers with widely varied backgrounds deployed in the Middle East discover an unlikely connection: they're all from Hannibal
Military careers have taken four Hannibal natives across the world — from Texas to South Carolina, the Caribbean to the islands Japan to the deserts of Oman. But, in an unlikely twist of fate, all four converged in the same spot in the Middle East recently, part of a small unit pulled for a nearly year-long deployment.
Out of 10,000 personnel in the 35th Infantry Division, Captain Jennifer Denkler said, 518 soldiers deployed to the Middle East. Having four soldiers from the same small town in Northeast Missouri in a group that size is highly coincidental.
The infantry division is comprised of Missouri National Guard and Kansas National Guard units and is headquartered at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Jennifer Denkler has been with the division for seven years. Her brother, Second Lieutenant John “Landon” Denkler, has been with the division for three years. Captain Joe Vincent and Master Sergeant Mark Lieurance were pulled from other units to join the 500 other soldiers on current deployment, adding another factor to the improbability of meeting.
Finding out that each shared a common connection — growing up in Hannibal — came by surprise.
Naturally, Jennifer Denkler and Landon Denkler grew up in America’s Hometown together.
“I recruited him into the Army National Guard and the 35th Infantry Division in 2015,” Jennifer Denkler said in an email from her current location in the Kingdom of Jordan. “I actually had the great honor of swearing him in at the Kansas City Military Entrance Processing station in February of 2015.”
She met Lieurance as the unit prepared to deploy from Fort Hood, Texas.
“I had to fill out some paperwork on him that required his home address, which he stated was close to Hannibal,” she remembered. “I was taken aback and asked him more about where he grew up, realizing he was from my hometown.”
Lastly, Jennifer Denkler met Vincent when he arrived.
“When he said he was from Hannibal I was shocked again,” she said.
All four have led busy careers.
Lieurance, about 20 years seniors to his other Hannibal counterparts, joined active duty Army in 1986 and served through 1993. He joined the Missouri National Guard in 2003. His career has taken him to Honduras, Germany, and Afghanistan, as well as many other places in the U.S. Now stationed in Jordan, he leads a team of soldiers so they can efficiently perform their duties.
Vincent entered the military in October 1993. Now a captain, he evaluates, tests, diagnoses and treats soldiers as a physician’s assistant. He career has taken him to Okinawa, Kuwait, Germany, as well as throughout America, including Ferguson, Mo.
Jennifer Denkler left Hannibal in 1998 to join the Army as an enlisted medic and x-ray technician.
She describes herself as a jack of all trades, serving as a medic, military police officer, and human resources officer among other duties. She has served much of her military career in recruiting and also served as the commander of Bravo Company, Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Riley, Kan.
Landon Denkler entered basic training at age 30 in 2015, which “was quite interesting at that age,” he admitted. Despite a relatively short military career, he has been stationed in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Jordan, and other locations in the Middle East and at several locations in the U.S. Specializing in intelligence, he is the Project Manager and Assistant ORSA (Organizational Research Statistics and Analysis).
The Denklers and Vincent graduated from Hannibal High School, while Lieurance graduated from Mark Twain High School.
With busy military schedules and a plethora of responsibilities, the four Hannibal natives recently had an opportunity to meet in person, discover some common connections and reminisce briefly about their shared hometown.
“Most of my memories from growing up in Hannibal revolve around music,” Landon Denkler said. “I was a percussionist in the marching band, jazz band, a local garage band, and my church.”
Vincent remembered trips to Cassano’s while Lieurance recalled working at the Clemens Ampitheater and Hardee’s.
Several mentioned the festivals that makes Hannibal a national destination during the warmer months.
“I also remember not appreciating the size of the Mississippi River until I travelled more extensively as an adult,” Landon Denkler said.
Added Lieurance: “It was a tight-knit community. I could not go anywhere in town without running into friends.”
All of the soldiers still have family in the area and although some haven’t visited in several years, they recall fond memories of Hannibal.
The quartet won’t likely get to spend much time together due to job responsibilities, but all admit that a Hannibal connection in the Middle East came as a shock. The group will return to the U.S. this spring.
Reach editor Eric Dundon at firstname.lastname@example.org .