Risse and Novak Families among local military families

April is Military Child Month: Risse and Novak Families among local military families

By Marj Frew

Starting in the mid 1980’s, April has been designated as Month of the Military Child. It is a time set aside to honor children whose parents are serving in the military.

Many families in our region have had a loved one in the service. I recently visited with two military families who reside in Martin. Mathew Risse, whose family lived with, and without him, during his time in the Air Force, and Malesa Novak, whose husband, Nathan, serves in the Army National Guard.

Mathew and Amanda Risse

Mathew entered the Air Force in September of 1996, and retired twenty years later as a Master Sergeant, in February of 2017.

While stationed in Las Vegas, Nevada, he met his future wife, Amanda Gagne, in 2006. They were married in 2007, and soon their first son, Gavin, was born.

In 2008, their second son, Jordan, was born while the family was still in Las Vegas. Not long after, in 2010, Mathew was deployed to Korea for a year.

Gavin and Jordan were two and three at the time. The family decided to have Amanda and the boys move to Martin during that period. When Mathew returned to the states in 2011 he was stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, which would be home for the family until his retirement in 2017.

While stationed in Utah, duty called for Mathew to be deployed two more times to Korea, for six months each time, and again to Afghanistan for ten months. “I retired six months after returning from that one.”

During this time, Amanda was active in a Military Spouses Group at Hill Air Force Base. They helped newcomers adjust to military life on the base.

Mathew said he knew his deployments were more stressful on his family than on him, because this was what he was trained for. Communication was not easy, but they took advantage of phone calls whenever possible. “I knew they were safe back home, because of the Military Support Group, but they were always worrying about me because they didn’t necessarily know what was going on. It was the uncertainty. I didn’t get to call every day. It might be a week, it might be two weeks. You’d never know.”

“I loved it but it was hard on the family. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t stay in any longer.”

Growing up on base, the kids had the chance once a year to go through all the steps of the processing line in the military, so they knew what the parent was going through to get ready to go. 

“They learned what it was like to do basic training, from getting all the gear, to making sure the training was up to date, and show them the weapons so it wasn’t a shock to them when they would see you leaving with it all. They got to see the aircraft and see what dad’s job was all about. It made it easier for them to understand all the gear I would leave home with,” Matt explained.

“Living on base built a tight camaraderie between families.” He added, “The boys still keep in touch with some of their friends from that time.”

“They played sports together, and it was a very close-knit community, and everyone was safe. They would take off and go two blocks down the street and go play with their friends. It was so safe, it’s hard to explain. Everyone was friends because everyone was in the same boat.”

ßAmanda now works as a secretary at the States Attorney’s office at the Bennett County Courthouse, and Mathew is co-owner of Bros, as well as Commander for the American Legion Post 240.

Gavin and Jordan are now ten and eleven years old, and are students in Martin Grade and Middle Schools.

Nathan and Malesa Novak

Nathan Novak, of Martin, enlisted in the South Dakota Army National Guard in 2009. He and Malesa Fisher were married in 2011.

Their family includes Zakk, a sixth grader at Martin Middle School; Tristan, who is in the second grade at Martin Grade School; and Justin, a busy, busy three year old.

Nathan was deployed at the time of Justin’s birth in 2015. He was able to come home for a short time, and arrived home in time for the special event.

The family has lived in Martin during Nathan’s time in the service. He is still on active duty with the reserves, and is a Weekend Warrior one weekend a month, along with two weeks active training during the summer.

Tristan joined the conversation, telling us “I was happy when my dad came to talk to my class. He showed us money from all different places.” 

Malesa and Tristan told of the MRE’s, Meals Ready to Eat, which they got to try. “Some of them are pretty iffy! Dad told us ‘Stay clear of that one! Eat this one instead’.”

Tristan says he plans to be in the Army, the same as his Dad. 

Malesa reflected on the hardest part of being in Martin with Nathan being in the Guard. “There’s not a lot of other guards people in this area that are based out of Martin. Most of the Guardsmen in Nathan’s unit are in Rapid City or Wagner. The Martin community has helped when he is away.”

Nathan currently is a licensed journeyman and the Utility Systems Operator for the Badlands National Park, and Malesa takes care of the home front.

Nationwide, the color purple is used to represent all military branches, and the term “Purple Up” is used to remind people to wear purple to support our military families.

I encourage you to thank those military kids that you know for their part in serving our country every month of the year.

502 Second Avenue, Martin, SD 57551 • 605-685-6866 • booster@gwtc.net