Dennis Wiechmann grew up on Big Birch Lake and graduated from Melrose High School in 1989. He is the third of seven children of Pat and Millie.
“I grew up doing a lot of hunting and fishing,” he remembers.
One of the teachers he recalls best from his time in Melrose is Mr. Johnson, a driver’s education instructor.
“He was a really big guy,” Wiechmann said. “He had a big impact on me. He had strong character; he was strict, but good.”
But what Wiechmann really wanted in life was to see more than Minnesota. He went to a recruiter when he was just 17, and signed up for delayed entry. He went on active duty with the Navy, June 13, 1989.
“I wanted to get out and go on an adventure,” he said. “Some adventure it was, because I was stationed in western Washington and all my assignments have been out here. Now, I’ve made this my home.”
He began his Navy career as a torpedo man aboard a Trident ballistic missile submarine. After eight years on active duty, he joined the Navy Reserve.
In June 2003, he deployed to Kuwait to support security patrol boats in the Persian Gulf during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We arranged security for U.S. ships as they offloaded personnel, ammunition and equipment. We also performed security patrols in the Gulf,” he said.
He switched from the Navy Reserve to the Army Reserve in 2004, working as a civil affairs officer at Fort Lewis, Washington (now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord).
He was once again deployed in May 2005 for 14 months at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Independence, in Baghdad.
“Our unit met with local neighborhood officials throughout western Baghdad to find projects, including reconstructions, humanitarian aid, school remodels, along with medical and vet camps. We also assisted at the voting polls for Iraq’s first election,” he said.
Wiechmann was deployed one more time in August 2008 for 14 months to FOB Qwest, south of Mosul. His missions were the same as his first deployment, except in a more rural desert area.
He retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant, Jan. 1, 2017. He continues to work as a civilian at Naval Base Kitsap in Port Operations, where he has worked since 2006 as a marine mechanic.
“It’s fun work and I enjoy what I do. We’re responsible for the movements of all vessels moving in and out of the Bremerton port. Being a part of pulling submarines, aircraft carriers and other ships in and out of port is, in my opinion, the best job you can have,” Wiechmann said. “Knowing that when you’re bringing them back home to Bremerton, you’re bringing the sailors home to their families. That makes it worth it.”
Wiechmann was recently awarded the Naval Base Kitsap Senior Civilian of the Year award. It’s the largest naval installation in the Pacific Northwest and the third largest in the U.S..
“This award means a lot to me. Honestly, I didn’t feel I was deserving of this award, so I was surprised when I received it. I feel all the credit is owed to the personnel who work for me. Without them, I wouldn’t have been considered for the award,” Wiechmann said.
He has one daughter, Hanna, 21, who lives in Bremerton. He met his wife, Emily, working in Port Operations. They have been married since 2018.
Wiechmann comes back to Minnesota as often as he can, averaging about once a year. There is always someone to visit, as his brother and five sisters live in Minnesota: John Wiechmann in Grey Eagle, Nancy Thell in Holdingford, Eva Miller in St. Joseph, Amy Wiechmann in LaPorte, Ada Adolph in Kimball and Mary Thomes in Clearwater.
With fishing as his number-one hobby, Wiechmann goes fishing as much as he can at home and while in Minnesota.
“I spent a lot of time fishing on Birch Lake with my friend who has passed, Tony Janke,” he said. “We spent hours floating on inner tubes and boats, fishing in the summer and doing my homework in my fish house in the winter.”
Wiechmann is still a die-hard Minnesota sports fan. He tries to take in a Twins game when he can.
He believes that one of the biggest characteristics of Minnesotans is the friendliness. It’s very different than in Washington.
“I’ve lived in the same house for 30 years and I’ve never met my neighbor. I can see his house from mine. I’ve reached out to him, but he’s never responded,” he said. “I like to be friendly, to get to know people, to genuinely care. I have to say that came from growing up in a small Minnesota town like Melrose.”