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My Evolving Story
January was the beginning of my first semester at the University of North Dakota. With the recommendation of the CEO at-that-time of the publishing giant Simon and Schuster I had chosen UND. With most of my classmates attending other universities, my sentiment was that UND would offer me a fresh start outside the confines of any previous paradigms that I had. It was also a much larger school than I had ever attended before with about 10,000 students matriculating there. Packing up the car that was piloted by my grandmother and mother and my 1983 Dodge Rampage (that car had character!) we began our one-day journey to Grand Forks, ND. My first days there were mixed with the triumph of being on my own, the fear of something new, and a vacuum in which to make new friends.
My first residence was in Smith Hall. Although it introduced me to the nuances of living in a dormitory (differently than my time in the military, mind you), I didn't allow myself to truly become immersed in the lifestyle of living in the dorms until I transferred to McVey Hall the following semester. My coursework began with introductory courses in computer science and mathematics. I learned two things from this: It is difficult to pay attention to college algebra and trigonometry before 8 a.m; and the wonderful programming language known as Ada. While I saw the benefits in teaching this language to beginning college freshmen (in that it was a very strong-typed language), I found irony in the fact that it had the sole purpose of being developed for managing nuclear missiles during the Cold War. The other class that I took great joy in attending was one in English composition. I've always liked to write and this would afford me an opportunity to do so for a productive purpose. Although we spent much of the semester picking apart movies such as THX 1138 and The Breakfast Club, there was one thing--or I should say person--that made the entire experience memorable.
It was during a conversation--my first in the class--with the kid that ate all of his meals from vending machines (you know the type). He remarked that I appeared older than how old I claimed to be. It took photo identification to prove to him otherwise. At that time there was a knock on the door to the classroom; as it was the first session for this night class, I'm certain the person knocking was simply apprehensive of barging in on another class in session. Opening the door I saw the face of a person that would come to play a very significant, under-appreciated role in my life. The first words were simply pleasantries; this turned into me walking her back to her apartment in the brisk January evening weather of Grand Forks. The next day I received a call from her at my dorm: She had heard about a recent movie, Titanic, that she was wondering if I would accompany her to see. Although our first date didn't necessarily get off on the right foot over a dinner of pizza at Pizza Hut, it ended on a remarkable note that had me up into the wee hours of the morning trying to make sense of it.
Our relationship progressed throughout 1998. To this day I do not forgive myself for under-appreciating what she was in my life, and what could have been. Friends are quick to point out that all things are probably for the best, but there are some days that I question the logic in that, but parts of me know better. Inaction on my part in this situation has scarred me to this day. In the end, perhaps that was the wisdom that has arisen from the tribulation that I have gone through over her, because of my own selfishness, to this day.
This year was the one, however, that I found my particular bent towards my professionalism. Taking coursework in the local ROTC program I found myself making the transition from exposure to course materials strictly meant for enlisted personnel to that for commissioned officers. I look back at these events as starting me on a path that emphasized grand strategy over grunt work, as my new paradigm found me transitioning from a simple combat engineer to administrative duties for my detachment's readiness non-commissioned officer, recruiter, and first sergeant. My tasks were broad and varied: From reorganizing the detachment's records, keeping up the unit library, acting as unit fire marshal, and civil affairs coordinator.
I routinely worked on several special projects such as a special recruiting project spearheaded by an ambitious recruiter stationed at the Grand Forks recruiting office; assisting with a speech that The Adjutant General was scheduled to give to legislators about the economic impact of the National Guard on local communities; support for various ceremonies; taking part as a squad leader (i.e., camp counselor) for the North Dakota Army National Guard's youth camp two years in a row; and public affairs and recruiting events. I was proud to wear the uniform and it showed in my commitment to live by the moniker of the North Dakota Army National Guard: "The Straight Arrows."
One thing that I would come to determine was that a namesake of mine, my great great grandfather Mathias Hetland, enlisted into the same unit--one based in Valley City, ND, within 100 years and just a few days of one another.
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