Tuesday, September 18, 2018
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Cass Lake soldier dies in Iraq
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Violence continues on an almost daily basis in Baghdad, as insurgents try to disrupt the Jan. 30 election. Here, American soldiers stand guard outside a police station in Baghdad, after a car bomb exploded there Monday. A Minnesota soldier was killed in another incident Sunday. (Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)
People on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation are mourning the loss of a Minnesota soldier killed in Iraq. Army Spc. Dwayne James McFarlane, Jr., 20, grew up in Cass Lake. McFarlane died Sunday when an improvised bomb exploded near him while he was on foot patrol just outside Baghdad.

Bemidji, Minn. — Friends and family members remember McFarlane as an ambitious and caring young man who was proud of his American Indian heritage.

It all feels like a dream for Don Bellanger of Cass Lake, who is McFarlane's uncle. Bellanger says when an Army officer showed up at his door Sunday afternoon, he knew instantly it was bad news. Bellanger raised McFarlane and treated him like a son since Dwayne was about 6 years old.

"I'm not angry. I'm very proud of the fact that he was over there defending our country, and for him being a Native person," Bellanger said. "I wish that people would understand that the sacrifice that we paid, his life, to defend his country, and him being a Native makes it that much more special to me."

I'm very proud of the fact that he was over there defending our country, you know. And for him being a Native person, you know... makes it that much more special to me.
- Don Bellanger

Bellanger says growing up on the impoverished Leech Lake Reservation isn't easy for anyone. But his nephew made the best of it. Bellanger says McFarlane joined the Army to get money for college. He had hopes of studying computers or designing cars.

"He was always very respectful to people, regardless of what was going on -- the turmoil that we are constantly in, day in and day out," Bellanger said. "He never criticized anybody and he never cut anybody down. He was just a thoughtful person, you know what I mean. He never said anything bad about anybody."

Dwayne McFarlane graduated from Cass Lake-Bena High School in 2002. Jennifer Voge, a guidance counselor at the school, says McFarlane was well-liked. The news of his death came as a shock to students and teachers.

"Dwayne's presence was one of respect, friendliness, a wonderful sense of humor," Voge said. "(He) had goals for himself and achieved those goals. He finished school, took care of himself physically, mentally and emotionally. And he strived to achieve."

McFarlane was a star athlete in track and field. He was a member of a basketball team that went to the state tournament in 2001.

"It was a wonderful team," Voge said. "The players were close. One player ... that played with him said, 'Dwayne was a role model for a lot of us.' And that stood out in my mind. And I guess I can agree with that."

Those who knew him say McFarlane was determined to make something of himself. John Wind was McFarlane's basketball coach during that winning season. Wind says McFarlane earned the respect of his teammates.

"He was dedicated," Wind said. "He worked hard. He was always one of the first ones at practice and one of the last ones to leave."

Cass Lake schools observed a moment of silence Monday for McFarlane. They're flying their flags at half-staff.

Several of McFarlane's friends learned of his death Sunday while they were watching the Vikings-Packers game. Kyle Fairbanks says they spent as much time thinking about McFarlane as they did watching the game. Fairbanks grew up with McFarlane. He says his friend cared about everyone, and made people feel good about themselves.

"He was a great guy, and he did everything to the best that he could do," Fairbanks said. "He gave it 110 percent at everything. He was just a good friend. It's like we kind of lost a brother instead of just a friend. We're all kind of brothers."

Dwayne James McFarlane, Jr. is the 11th Minnesota soldier to die in military operations in Iraq. His body is expected to arrive Tuesday at a military facility in Maryland. Family members haven't decided when the funeral will be. They're planning a traditional Ojibwe wake and a community-wide memorial service in Cass Lake.

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