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Army Staff Sgt. Joseph J. Altmann

Died December 25, 2011 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom


27, of Marshfield, Wis.; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; died Dec. 25 at FOB Bostick, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire.



‘This is what he wanted to do’

By Liz Welter
Marshfield (Wis.) News-Herald


The daylong Christmas festivities had quieted and night had settled at the Marshfield, Wis., home of John and Janice Altmann when Janice heard what she called the “dreaded knock on the door.”

Their son, Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann, 27, had been killed early Christmas Day during an insurgent attack in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

“You read about this happening to other families, and there’s pain you feel for them. Then when it happens, it’s devastating,” Janice Altmann said as she and her husband discussed the loss of their son, who served as a medic with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He recently had re-enlisted and was known by family and friends as Joe, and his Army comrades referred to him as Doc.

Joe Altmann was due to return from this tour of duty in February or March, John Altmann said. He had served two previous tours of duty in Iraq.

“This is what he wanted to do. He had just re-enlisted because he loved his job so much,” John Altmann said.

Altmann wasn’t a stellar student or athlete at Columbus Catholic High School, from which he graduated in 2003, but he was a member of the school’s football and baseball teams. Those who were close to him recalled him Tuesday as an all-around nice guy who had many friends and enjoyed sports and outdoor activities.

“Joe was a quiet man but had a heart of gold. He was always willing to help out in any way he could,” said Krisann Mauritz of Marshfield, who described herself as “Proud Aunt of SGT Joe Altmann” in an email about her nephew.

As a teenager, Joe was content to hang out with his aunt and uncle at their home.

“He would just show up on our doorstep and lay on our couch and watch movies with us. It’s times like that I wish I could get back,” Mauritz said.

Sam Klumb of Marshfield, a friend of Joe’s since kindergarten, said Altmann was a person of integrity and honesty.

“He was quiet, but you knew you could count on him for anything,” Klumb said. “He was a genuine person that cared about other people.”

Under Altmann’s quiet demeanor ran a current of wit that usually caught others by surprise, Klumb said.

Describing how they hung out with friends as teenagers, Klumb said, “Things would get quiet, and Joe was always the guy that could make everyone laugh and kept things going.”

When both young men were choosing careers after high school, Altmann considered the military but chose college instead, where he became interested in the medical field, Klumb said. While attending the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County, Altmann met with an Army recruiter and learned that his interests would serve him and his country well as a military medic.

“When he found out he liked [the medical field] and he could combine that with being a medic in the military, he found what he loved to do,” Klumb said.

Altmann joined the Army after one year of college and trained as a medic, fulfilling his passion, his father said.

“He was really good at what he did. We’re so proud of him. He was doing what he enjoyed,” John Altmann said. As parents, he and Janice understood the risks inherent to serving in the military, John Altmann said, but they supported his career choice. Neither of them served in the military.

In Facebook posts, Joe Altmann was remembered by members of his company Tuesday as a man who competently and quietly completed any task set before him. He was fondly remembered in the posts as “Doc” Altmann.

The Altmanns and their three adult children planned to escort the body from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Marshfield.

“It’s the last thing we can do for him,” John Altmann said.



Body of fallen soldier back on U.S. soil

By Liz Welter
Marshfield (Wis.) News-Herald


The body of Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann is home. Altmann, 27, of Marshfield, Wis., died Christmas Day in an insurgent attack in Kunar province, Afghanistan. His family attended a ceremony Dec. 28 at Dover Air Force Base, Del., as his body was transferred back to American soil.

An honor guard brought Altmann’s flag-draped casket from a transport plane to a transfer vehicle, which takes the soldier’s body to be prepared to be sent home, said Army Liaison Team Chaplain Garry Losey, who attended the ceremony with Altmann’s parents and family.

“The ceremony was very emotional,” John Altmann, Joseph Altmann’s father, said during a telephone interview after attending the ceremony.

The family returned to Marshfield late Dec. 28. Joseph Altmann’s body will arrive later this week, his father said. A funeral service is pending, with arrangements by Rembs Funeral Home, he said.

Altmann’s wife, Nikki, and her parents; as well as Altmann’s sister and one of Altmann’s brothers attended the ceremony, John Altmann said.

Altmann served as a medic with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He recently re-enlisted and was known by family and friends as Joe, and his Army comrades referred to him as Doc.

Altmann was due to return from this tour of duty in February or March, John Altmann said. He had served two previous tours of duty in Iraq.

“This is what he wanted to do. He had just re-enlisted because he loved his job so much,” John Altmann said.

Following this tour of duty, Joe and Nikki Altmann planned to move to Colorado Springs, Colo., where Altmann would be stationed at Fort Carson, his father said.

“They were going to start a family,” he said.

Both of Altmann’s parents are from large, extended families in Marshfield, where many aunts, uncles and cousins are providing support.

“Our families are wonderful, a blessing through all of this,” John Altmann said as his voice cracked while talking about the plans Nikki and Joe had made.



Wife fondly recalls life with husband who was killed in Afghanistan

By Ashley A. Smith
Marshfield (Wis.) News-Herald


Every once in a while, the Skype program Nikki Altmann and her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann of Marshfield, used to communicate with one another while he was overseas failed to work, so the couple would type notes to one another.

On Christmas Eve, both the video and audio components of the Skype program worked perfectly. But still they typed notes to each other.

Nikki, who works as a flight attendant, was in Ireland. Joe, as he was called by family and friends, was in Afghanistan.

Joe told Nikki he was going on a mission for a few days.

"So I said, 'OK, no worries, I'll be waiting for you. I love you so much, and I'll talk to you soon. You're an amazing husband,'" said Nikki, 24, during an interview Thursday at the Altmann home in Marshfield. "So he wrote back, 'I love you sweetie, and I'm so thankful God gave you to me as my wife.'"

On Christmas Day, Joe, 27, a medic with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, died in an insurgent attack in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Nikki, who was in the Dallas, Texas, area at the time, was the first person in the family to receive news of Joe's death from military officials.

It was shocking, she said. "How would anybody handle this?" Nikki asked, as her voice cracked.

Nikki's mother, Kelly Nichols of Smithville, Texas, stood by her daughter's side, holding her hand as Nikki recounted her feelings after learning of Joe's death.

"It's tormenting, but (Nikki is) strong," Nichols said. "And then she has her breakdown moments, and then she's strong again. She loves Joe."

Unconventional love
For weeks in late 2009, one of Nikki's best friends encouraged her to travel to Hawaii to meet the friend and the friend's husband's new Army buddy -- Joe. He was stationed in Hawaii.

On Jan. 19, 2010, Nikki, who worked for a commercial airline, went to Hawaii and met Joe.

"Joe is very shy, so it took a while to get him to open up," Nikki recalled. "He was in the kitchen cooking, and I started asking about cooking, since I can't cook. And he just lit up after that. He was so excited to talk about cooking. I remember helping him peel shrimp, and I thought it was the most disgusting thing, and he thought it was so funny."

It took Joe and Nikki six days to realize they were right for each other.

"I had to leave at the end of that week (to go back to work)," she said. "(The week) was perfect. I didn't want to leave him."

From then on, Joe and Nikki made it their goal to visit one another in Hawaii and Texas, her home state.

After Nikki learned that Joe would be deployed to Afghanistan for his third tour last year, she transferred jobs from a commercial airline to an international airline that transports U.S. military members around the world.

Marriage before engagement
Last year, during a Skype conversation, while Nikki was in Ireland, Joe said, "I think we should get married."

"I said, 'I hope you're not proposing over Skype, because that would be a bad idea,'" Nikki said. "And, he said, 'No, no, I'm just running the idea by you.'"

The couple talked about marriage with each other and their parents. Eventually, Joe bought a ring, unbeknownst to Nikki, and had it shipped to Marshfield.

It wasn't until February that Nikki was able to meet Joe in Hawaii.

"We were talking about marriage again," Nikki said. "So I said, 'As long as we're doing this for the right reasons, and it's not about deployment, then I would absolutely go through with it.'"

Two days later, Nikki made arrangements for a judge to marry them on a beach in Hawaii -- without the ring or an engagement.

"It was great. It was just me and him," Nikki said. "It was perfect. Even if we had a big wedding and party, at the end of it all, it would just be me and him."

Making plans
The couple had started talking about kids, a house and a dog once Joe returned from Afghanistan, Nichols said.

"We were planning it all," Nikki said. "We dreamed together and talked about it. He was my everything. It was crazy, because with him being in Hawaii and me in Texas, there was a lot of miles between us."

Joe deployed for Afghanistan in April this year. Although it was difficult to talk about the "what ifs," Nikki said she and Joe had to prepare for the possibility of his death.

Joe wanted a military burial and to be buried in Marshfield, Nikki said.

"If something happens, he said, 'Take me home.' He said, 'I want you to know that I'm not afraid of dying. It's leaving you behind that scares me most,'" Nikki said. "But I reassured him that I'm stronger than I look and that I pray to God he would come back. I told him to do what he loved, and I'm proud of him for that."

"It's hard," she said. "I feel (his parents') pain because they're burying a son. And they feel mine, because I'm burying the man I love."

Still, Nikki feels as if she's in a dream, she said.

"Whenever you have two officers come knock on your door and they tell you, 'On behalf of the United States government ... we hope you accept our condolences,' it's something you don't think will happen," Nikki said, her voice cracking.

"You know it's a possibility. You read about other (military) families (losing loved ones in service), and you hurt for them, but you don't imagine it can happen to you. I'm still hoping someone will contact us and say it's a mistake, that my husband is coming home, that he's supposed to be home in February."

Most importantly, the family wants to remember, honor and grant Joe's wishes, Nikki said.

"I knew he loved all of us," Nikki said. "I know he loved me more than anything."

A funeral service is pending, with arrangements by Rembs Funeral Home, said Joe's father, John Altmann of Marshfield. It could take a few days before Joe's body arrives in Marshfield.

The Marshfield Fire Department is planning to escort Joe's body once it arrives, John said.



Hundreds attend memorial service for soldier killed in Afghanistan

By Ashley A. Smith
Marshfield (Wis.) News-Herald


Hundreds of people stood in a line that snaked around the Columbus Catholic High School gym Thursday evening to offer their condolences and thank the family of Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann.

Joe, as he was known, 27, a medic with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, died Christmas Day in an insurgent attack in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

"It's amazing to see the amount of support and love from this community," said Nikki Altmann, Joe Altmann's widow. "We've lost a husband and son, but the community has also lost a son."

A photo slide show of Altmann played in the back corner of the gymnasium as Altmann's military medals and photos sat on another side of the building. Plants and flowers carrying sympathy cards lined the front and back of the gym.

During the visitation, the Marine Corps League made a special presentation to the family. Nikki Altmann received a bronze Fallen Warrior sculpture, which features an Army helmet sitting atop a rifle in military boots with an inscription: "In loving memory of Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann ... who made the ultimate sacrifice."

"I'm amazed by this," Nikki Altmann said. "I'm truly honored to be a part of this. It's very overwhelming. It feels like it's a dream, and now that he's here and we can see him, it's pretty tough."

Knights of Columbus members stood guard near the American flag-draped casket, while local members of the Patriot Guard Riders held flags lining the entrance to the high school.

Some people waited in line about an hour to express their condolences.

Lowell and Linda Schultz of Marshfield are friends of the Altmann family and were there to show their support for Joe Altmann's parents, John and Jan Altmann.

"I figured Marshfield would come out and support the military," Lowell Schultz said. "I'm absolutely proud of this community."

Betsy Suckow of Marshfield and her husband, Dennis, stood in line to express their condolences.

"You need to do this and show your appreciation for what he did and what this family is doing," said Betsy Suckow of Marshfield, who is also a friend of the Altmann family. "I'm not one bit surprised by this turnout. He came from a wonderful family, and Marshfield knows everyone. We support everyone when we can."

The funeral for Joe Altmann will begin at 10:30 a.m. today at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, with a military burial following at Gate of Heaven Cemetery.



Memorial Day weekend ceremony to honor fallen soldier

By Nancy Quick
Marshfield (Wis.) News-Herald


WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. — Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann of Marshfield will be remembered at a ceremony at 11 a.m. May 25 on the lawn of the Wood County Courthouse. Altmann died in Afghanistan on Christmas Day 2011.

Altmann, 27, was killed during an insurgent attack in Kunar province. He is the son John and Janice Altmann and a 2003 graduate of Columbus High School in Marshfield.

Students and teachers from Columbus High School will take part in the ceremony. Amanda Kraus, music director, will sing the national anthem accompanied by the 43-member band under the direction of Tom Zimmerman. Student Alexandra Viegut will sound taps.

Altmann served as a medic with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based in Hawaii. Known as “Doc” to his comrades, Altmann recently had re-enlisted. He had served two previous tours of duty in Iraq.

Among the many decorations he received were the NATO Medal, Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart, posthumously.

According to an earlier newspaper article, Altmann was an avid outdoorsman and lived life to the fullest. He also leaves a wife, Nikki Altmann.

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