Yorkville veteran who served in Iraq turns military service into community service

Iraq War veteran Mike Melcher of Yorkville now serves as a Kendall County Sheriff's corrections officer and a Scout leader.

Mike Melcher of Yorkville is an Iraq War combat veteran whose military experience helped provide him with the foundation for future success serving his community.

“You learn to challenge yourself and push yourself,” Melcher said. “It taught me accountability. It humbles you and makes you grateful for what you have.”

Melcher grew up in Metropolis, Illinois, where he graduated from high school in 2001.

Not seeing many opportunities in the far downstate community, Melcher already had his sights set on the U.S. Army while still a high school freshman.

Just months after finishing high school, Melcher was starting basic training with the Army at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Just weeks into his service, the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center took place.

Melcher remembers standing in a line with his comrades when the news flashed across a TV screen.

“I just took it as it came,” Melcher said. “I tried not to worry.”

By the end of the year, Melcher had completed his training and soon found himself in Friedberg, Germany, with the First Armored Division.

“Germany was fun. I didn’t know what to expect,” Melcher said.

He was there until 2003, when in May of that year it was off to Kuwait and then Iraq.

Melcher had joined up as an infantryman, but had made the transition to mortars.

Promoted to sergeant and a squad leader, Melcher was in charge of a 120mm motor mounted on a tracked vehicle.

Melcher and his squad were based in a camp on the outskirts of Baghdad.

“It was a rathole,” Melcher said. “We went out on a lot of patrols. We kept our eyes out for roadside bombs and tried to talk to the locals.”

There were missions to seek out hidden weapons in Iraqi homes and businesses.

“We’d kick in the front door and clear the rooms,” Melcher said. “We never found anything. Maybe some AK-47s.”

Melcher was getting into a routine, until the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was destroyed in an attack on Aug. 19, 2003.

“Things were going smoothly and then the UN got bombed,” Melcher said. “Then we started seeing upticks in getting shot at. “More rockets and mortars.”

Melcher hated the enemy mortars.

“I would rather get bullets shot at me than mortars,” Melcher said. The source of rifle shots can often been identified by the muzzle flash, he noted.

“With mortars all you hear is a whistle,” Melcher said.

Melcher had some harrowing experiences in the war, including a close call with a rocket-propelled grenade that landed nearby.

It’s not going to do me good to dwell on it.”

Melcher is ambivalent about the U.S. accomplished in its war in Iraq.

“I’m torn. I’m very torn,” Melcher said.

“When you look at the country, I felt we left it in a kind of turmoil,” he observes, on the one hand.

“I think we left Iraq better than Afghanistan,” Melcher says. “We gave opportunities for people to live and prosper.”

After Iraq, Melcher returned to Germany, before his service ended in 2006.

Melcher moved to Marseilles and began working as a transportation coordinator for Menards in Plano, but found the job was not challenging for him.

Then when driving through Yorkville one day Melcher saw a billboard seeking applications to serve as Kendall County Sheriff’s corrections officers.

He applied, tested and trained for the post and was working in the Kendall County jail by 2008.

Melcher takes pride in what he describes as a professional environment in the jail and the treatment of the inmates.

“We treat them with the most respect that we can,” Melcher said.

Many of the jail’s inmates suffer from mental health problems. Melcher knows this first hand from an attack by a mentally unbalanced inmate.

He serves on a team at the jail which helps to classify inmates at the jail by their mental state, gang affiliations and other factors and determining if protective custody is needed.

Melcher derives satisfaction from his work when he encounters former jail inmates.

“When you run into somebody on the street and you can see that they are doing good and turning things around, its satisfying to see that some good came our of what you’ve done,” Melcher said.

“They recognize you first,” he continued. “They usually apologize for their behavior.”

Today, with a wife and family, Melcher is a Boy Scout troop leader in Yorkville and is an active member of the Yorkville American Legion Post 489.

“The Legion is great for the community,” Melcher said.