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SERVING HER COUNTRY: Ernst, first female combat veteran in U.S. Senate, recalls leading troops in Iraq

SIOUX CITY | Long before she had a chance to impact public policy affecting the U.S. military branches, Sen. Joni Ernst enrolled in the Iowa State University ROTC program in her sophomore year.

That was Ernst's entry to military service, following in the footsteps of her father, Richard Culver, and the path taken by her eventual husband and many other family members.

With her election to the U.S. Senate, Ernst became the first female combat veteran to serve in the 100-member body. The Iowa Republican said military service has given her a great sense of meaning for her life.

"Everything you do has a purpose, and it is supporting your brother and your sister on your right...Once you've seen that big picture, you don't let the little things drag you down," she said.

Ernst had a life-changing moment after her freshman year at Iowa State, seeing something far different than the experiences of growing up in Red Oak in southwest Iowa. Ernst was among ISU students on an agricultural exchange to a collective farm in Ukraine, which, in 1989, was still part of the Soviet Union.

Living in conditions far different than the mechanized Western Civilization, "the folks there were begging for freedom and they just so badly wanted to know what it was like to be an American, to have the same rights and privileges and opportunities that we did," Ernst recalled.

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Ernst said she relishes the freedoms afforded to Americans, "so I thought by being in the military that would be my part in keeping such a tremendous republic alive and well."

So, when she returned to the campus in Ames that fall, she signed up for her first military course and the Reserved Officers' Training Corps. Ernst said she has never regretted that path, which resulted in a 23-year military career that ended when she retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard during her first year in the U.S. Senate.

After graduating from Iowa State in 1992, she joined the U.S. Army Reserves. In 2003, Ernst served as a commander based at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, leading 150 Iowa Army National Guardsmen during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a town hall meeting at American Legion Post 724 in Brunsville on Oct. 14. Ernst, the first woman in Iowa elected to Congress, and the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, reflected on her deployment leading troops in Iraq.

Ernst said the one-year stint in the Middle East was a bracing experience, initially running transportation missions in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

"It was really hard when you have Iraqis swarming your convoys and trying to steal stuff off your truck," she said.

As the deployment went on, contracting firms brought in trucks, so the duties became more involved in security tasks that included  "roving patrols, which is more of an MP (military police) type mission," Ernst recapped.

"My soldiers played a really valuable role in that first year of getting established in Kuwait and Iraq. I am very proud of all my soldiers and all that they committed. You know, we lived in miserable, miserable conditions and it is OK. Again, you find out how far you can push yourself," she said.

Photos: Serving her country

Ernst's military career had some highs, but even a future senator couldn't avoid some menial tasks over the years. One of her most memorable also came in Iraq, where there were repercussions for those not following the requirement of armoring up with helmets and Kevlar protections.

"I was driving my Humvee and -- I totally forgot, I totally forgot, on accident, I had my mind on other things -- and I did not put my Kevlar on," she recalled. "Some of my MCO's (Movement Control Officers) were driving by and they saw me. I said, 'Well, it applies to everyone else, so it applies to me too.' So, I did a week of cleaning out porta potties."

She added with a laugh, "I did deserve it."

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during town hall meeting at American Legion Post 724 in Brunsville on Oct. 14. Ernst, the first woman in Iowa elected to Congress, and the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, reflected on her deployment leading troops in Iraq.

'Hanging up their tape measures,' Karlton's to close after 57 years

SIOUX CITY | Three years shy of its 60th anniversary, Sioux City’s last locally-owned menswear store will close at year's end.

“We’re ready to hang our tape measures up and start having fun,” said Kim Kletschke, who co-owns Karlton’s Clothiers and Tailors alongside his brother, Kal Kletschke.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

From left, co-owners Kal and Kletschke and longtime employee John Yaneff pose for a photo at Karlton's Clothiers & Tailors in downtown Sioux City. The venerable men's clothing store will close at the end of this year after 57 years in business. 

Karlton’s, 515 Fourth St., has been a downtown staple since it was started by Kim and Kal's father, Karlton, in 1960.

The elder Kletschke was a Chicago native who moved to Sioux City to play baseball at Morningside College and fell in love with the retail clothing industry, according to family lore.

While attending school, Karlton Kletschke worked part-time at Mickelson's Clothing Store, a one-time downtown retailer, and joined full-time there after graduating from Morningside.

In 1960, Karlton Kletschke struck out on his own, opening Karl’s Prep and Harvard Shop at 510 Fifth St., a clothing store that catered to a more youthful demographic.

Seven years later, Karlton Kletschke purchased Mickelson’s, which was around the corner on Pierce Street, and renamed it after himself and ran both operations.

In 1972, the stores were consolidated into the existing 7,500-square-foot storefront on Fourth Street.

Ty Rushing / Journal File Photo 

In this Journal file photo from 1972, a sign on this building at 515 Fourth St., announces that Karlton's Clothiers and Tailors will be opening there soon. After nearly 60 years in the business, the Kletschke family has decided to close the downtown Sioux City retail staple.

For a period, Karlton’s was split down the middle, with one half specializing in business wear and the other side more casual fare. The two sides eventually integrated and the dividers were removed.

When Karlton's opened 57 years ago, the competition was incredibly stiff downtown but somehow the store outlived all of its competitors, an accomplishment Kim Kletschke is quite proud of.

“It was crazy because when my father opened down here, there were eight men’s stores and four full-line department stores that had men’s departments in downtown,” he said. “It was like downtown Chicago. When they say ‘Little Chicago’ they weren’t kidding — downtown was crazy back in the ’60s — and we just outlasted them all.”

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Pete Bovis, a  tailor at Karlton's Clothiers & Tailors, adjusting a garment in the back of the downtown Sioux City business, which plans to close its doors by the end of the year.

Kim Kletschke, 65, started working at the store in 1967 as a 16-year-old sophomore at Central High School.

“Everyday, I started school up there, after school I would walk down the hill to work, work ’till the store was closed and rode home with dad and then I worked every Saturday my whole life,” he said. “My brother, likewise; he was four years behind me in school.”

Both brothers devoted their lives to Karlton’s and so have most of their associates with the least tenured store employee having worked there for 32 years.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Tailor Kiki Karras and salesman John Yaneff share a conversation at Karlton's Clothiers & Tailors in Sioux City. Both long-term employees were consulted by the Kletschke brothers and all parties agreed it was time to shutter the nearly 60-year-old Sioux City business.

Because of everyone’s advanced ages, Kim Kletschke noted they all agreed with the decision to shutter Karlton's and leave on their own terms.

“With a business closing or retirement deal, it’s good for maybe the owner and bad for the rest of them … (but) everybody here is ready to do it,” Kim Kletschke said. “It’s perfect. We’ve been planning this under the radar for over a year and timing it out so it would carry out through the Christmas season and then everybody can take off and go somewhere warm.”

Friday was the last day of regular operations for Karlton’s.

The store will be closed until 9 a.m. Thursday as the staff reorganizes it and marks prices down on what Kim Kletschke said is going to be a “big blowout sale.”

“We want to get as much stuff out of here in the first days as possible so it’ll be serious,” he said.

In anticipation of the crowd of value shoppers, Kim Kletschke said they’ve recruited longtime customers, friends and family members — both of his daughters are flying in from Chicago — to help man the store during the sale.

One thing Kim Kletschke will miss most is the customers, a lot of whom he's befriended over the years. He noted they’ve seen up to three-generations of shoppers in some families, kept track of people's past purchases to help them find companion pieces and have had no qualms about letting people who are shopping for someone else take something home to get a second opinion before committing to a purchase.

However, he, his brother and their staff are glad to close the store on their own terms and are ready for whatever comes next in their lives.

“It’s nice being able to go out on your own, not because you had to or somebody shut you down or you lost your lease — we own the building,” Kim Kletschke said. “After we’re done with our inventory liquidation, we’ll move on to having fun.”

Records offer some details into sexual abuse charges against Sioux Center teacher

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | A former Sioux Center Christian School elementary teacher charged with more than 100 counts of sexual abuse touched the genitals of at least one child multiple times and solicited at least one student to engage in a sex act, according to court records.

Curtis Van Dam, 36, also is accused of exposing himself to at least one child and persuading at least one minor to disrobe multiple times, according to the documents.

Police filed with the courts 40 pages of affidavits based on interviews with the alleged victims at the Child Advocacy Center in Sioux City. The affidavits do not make clear how many students lodged complaints against the teacher or the gender of the victims.

Sioux Center Police Chief Paul Adkins has declined to identify the number of victims, other than to describe them as "numerous." He said the investigation continues and additional charges are possible.

Van Dam, who taught at the private school for nine years, faces 101 felonies and 39 misdemeanors as the result of an investigation that began Oct. 18 after school officials received a complaint of inappropriate conduct by Van Dam with a student. Additional charges were filed earlier this week. The alleged abuse occurred over a more than four-year period, beginning Aug. 23, 2014. The most recent accusation of sexual exploitation was documented on Oct. 17, a day before the complaint against Van Dam was reported.

According to the affidavits, some of his alleged acts include:

-- Touched the genitals of a child under age 12 twice a week for 10 weeks, from Feb. 1, 2016 through April 22, 2016.

-- Caused a child under 12 to touch his genitals, from Feb. 1, 2016 through April 22, 2016.

-- While in a position of authority, persuaded a minor to disrobe or partially disrobe once a week for six weeks, from Nov. 7, 2016 through Dec. 22, 2016.

-- Exposed himself to a child on more than one occasion.

-- Solicited a child to engage in a sex act from Oct. 31, 2016 through May, 19, 2017.

Police said the alleged crimes took place at various locations, including the school at 630 First Ave. School officials said Van Dam was removed from the school immediately after the first complaint was filed, and was later terminated.

Van Dam started teaching at the school after he graduated from Dordt College in 2004.

Van Dam, who was arrested Oct. 23, is being held in the Sioux County Jail. He faces 72 counts of second-degree sexual abuse, 12 counts of third-degree sexual abuse, 14 counts of sexual exploitation by a teacher, and three counts of lascivious acts with a child.

The school said it is a providing daily support and guidance to students as needed through teachers and professional counselors. A group session for parents was held Wednesday at the school. Another session for parents and 5-8 grade students is scheduled for Nov. 15.

Sioux Center Christian School was founded in 1905. The school has 509 students in grades K-8 for the 2017-18 school year, according to its website.

Van Dam