He may have grown up in Oklahoma, but General Dennis J. Reimer (U.S. Army, retired), has been a part-time resident of the Detroit Lakes area for more than five decades now.
"My wife grew up in Fargo, N.D., and her family had a place out at Pelican Lake," Reimer explained in a recent interview. "She has spent a portion of every summer of her life there."
The Reimer family — which now includes two grown children, both married, and four grandchildren — has kept up that tradition, despite the fact that the General's Army career has taken him all over the globe since his graduation from West Point in 1962.
Though he retired from active military service in 1999, after 37 years — the last four as U.S. Army Chief of Staff — Reimer continued his tradition of public service, joining Army Emergency Relief (AER), the Army-affiliated nonprofit organization that was created to help soldiers and their family members when they experience financial emergencies.
"It’s an organization that was founded in 1942, during World War II, to help soldiers and families in need of assistance," said Reimer, adding that AER remains the only organization officially chartered, by Army regulation, to provide that assistance.
On Nov. 16, 2009, Reimer was appointed as AER's president, a position he continued to hold until his retirement on Dec. 31. And even though he is stepping away from his active involvement with AER, Reimer says he plans to continue to find ways to continue helping those men and women in the military who are struggling with keeping their families safe and well while serving their country.
"It's not easy to leave the family behind and not worry about things like car payments and mortgages," Reimer said. "It's a simple fact that soldiers don't get paid that much. They don't have a lot of discretionary funds, so we (at AER) try to help them out with grants or loans."
And while the majority of that assistance comes in the form of loans rather than grants, Reimer said that they are offered at zero interest, so the soldier only has to pay back what was borrowed.
Since it was established in 1942, he added, AER has provided over $2 billion in assistance to more than 4 million soldiers and their families — and of that total, roughly half has been given out since Sept. 11, 2001.
Reimer said that the post-9/11 deployment of U.S. Armed Forces in the Middle East created an unprecedented need and, since then, AER has provided assistance to thousands of soldiers and family members.
"It's soldiers helping soldiers," said Reimer — but more than that, he added, the majority of those who contribute to AER have ties to the military, whether it's from their own service, or that of a friend or loved one.
Reimer added that his decision to retire from AER was not prompted by anything other than his own desire to move on to new challenges.
"I think it's time for me to step down," he said, adding that he has full confidence that the person who succeeds him will do an even better job than he did.
"You never know for sure, but as I look back on the 10 years I spent as the chairman at AER, what we were able to do is put a strategic plan in place that I think made a lot of sense and elevated the assistance we were able to provide to our soldiers and their family members," he said.
At the same time, Reimer added, he would like to see the organization seek out a broader range of revenue sources, "to help support those people who are keeping this nation safe."
As for his own future plans, Reimer said he plans to stay active in the nonprofit arena.
"I am the chairman of the board of an organization called the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association," he said, adding that their work covers all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. "It's an organization that provides an array of financial solutions for people with military backgrounds."
Though the organization started out primarily to provide life insurance for military members and families, it has expanded to include mortgages, trusts, annuities and other forms of financial aid.
"It's still a not-for-profit organization, but they do totally different work than AER does," Reimer said.
In addition, he continues to lend his expertise to the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point, which trains future corporate leaders according to the West Point model: "Character is foundational to the ability to lead."
"I've tried to focus on those things that I care about, and areas where I thought I could make a difference," he said.
More than 50 years of public service
Reimer was born in Medford, Okla., a small town of about 2,000 people. Though no one in his family had served in the Armed Forces before, he did well enough in his high school studies to be offered an opportunity to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he would receive four years of education and a college degree, in return for five years of active military service after his 1962 graduation.
"Five years turned into 37," Reimer said, adding that his initial tour of duty in the military came during the height of the Vietnam War,
"I served two tours over there (in Vietnam)," he said. He was commissioned in the artillery.
During his military career, Reimer served as a Battalion Advisor with Military Assistance Command in Vietnam; Company Commander with the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga.; Battalion Executive Officer and Operations Officer in the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam; Battalion Commander in the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., and Commander of Division Artillery with the 8th Infantry Division in Germany.
He also served as Chief of Staff of the 8th Infantry Division; Commanding General of the 4th Infantry Division; U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans; U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff and Commanding General, Forces Command.
In June of 1995, he became the 33rd Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, a position he held until his retirement from active duty in 1999.
Since then, in addition to his work with AER, Reimer has been the Director of the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and President of DFI Government Services in Washington, D.C.
His service awards during both peacetime and combat include two Defense Distinguished Service Medals, five Distinguished Service Medals, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Bronze Star Medals (one with “V” Device), the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Parachutist Badge and the Ranger Tab. He also holds a master's degree in public administration from Shippensburg State College in Pennsylvania.
Fifty-seven years ago, Reimer met and married Fargo native Mary Jo Powers. They had two children together, Michael and Ann Marie, who are now married with children of their own. Though his permanent address is in Washington, D.C., Reimer said that he and his wife have no plans to give up their home on Pelican Lake anytime soon, as they and their children try to make it back there as often as they can once the weather starts warming up.
"We go there every summer," he said. "We look forward to it. It's just a great place to be."