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My Evolving Story
"Why do we fall?"
Everyone has a transitional period in their life where they find themselves shifting between major segments of their lives. After a failed relationship with the aforementioned, dropping out of college at UND, and attempting to get promoted from recruiter aide to recruiter in the North Dakota Army National Guard I found myself at this point. Though not the true millennium, but the observed one, 2000 found me staying in the spare bedroom of a high school friend while I worked as the sales manager in my piece of the dot-com bubble. For 5 months of my life, drama was the watchword of the day as I clung to the hope that I had finally found my big break: A way out of my station in life and into a higher social caste. At the end of five months, however, the opportunity cost of the situation began to outweigh the benefits I was seeing from it. Money was a day-to-day thing, bills went unpaid not due to lack of trying, but simply the lack of it coming in. The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back--the final incident that made me decide to take a different path was hearing that, despite the financial woes that I was facing personally in this start-up, the founding partners were embezzling money from the company to suit their own personal desires. As my "spidey sense" of impropriety kicked in, I left the organization for...for what?
I didn't have a plan from here. I was a regular visitor to job service and attempted to find solace in the military with which I had once had a symbiotic relationship. Able to work and not able to find a skilled profession in which to express it, I walked to the local Hardees to apply for a job as a shift manager. "We don't hire shift managers from outside," the store manager said, "but I can give you a job teaching you the ropes of the systems and promote you into it." This came alongside the obligatory fast food interview emphasizing that everyone must be willing to not only put in their fair share, but also that everyone was equal in their mission to keep things running, no matter what. Diligent in my laboring, I quickly learned that the prevailing attitude at the store was a very stressful one: Made to be so by the skyrocketing labor to profits ratio. To make up for the slack the shift managers were overworked and underpaid. The cost of leaving was too great, however, as I had surmised that I would soon find myself in another "McJob" doing the same kind of work in a similar atmosphere.
Though not on active duty, for the last several months I had found myself drilling with the 68TH Troop Command in Bismarck, ND. In August of 1999 I had ascended from the formal duty role as a combat engineer (mind you, with a list of additional duty appointments at least a half-page long) to that of a personnel services specialist. In July of 2000 I was transferred to Fort Lee, VA to attend the job qualification course to formally become a personnel services specialist or non-commissioned officer. Oddly enough, the school for the Adjutant General's Corps--the regiment responsible for personnel, administration, and information management--is found in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Others from my unit expected me to go to a regional training institute in California. For some reason I found myself in the charge of the 110TH Division to formally learn the ways of the occupational specialty that I had be practicing for most of my military career.
Fort Lee was a bittersweet experience: As always I excelled at the coursework: In the end, I believe I graduated second in my class. I met some fascinating people and was able to get away from the stress of my life back in Dickinson. When others would remark "I can't wait to get home," I smiled and though to myself that I had nowhere to really return. Return I did, though, finding myself a temporary position in my unit which to work at for a few weeks. Being burnt out towards my experience at Hardees I decided to quit that job and again found myself in a situation where I had run out of plans to fall back on.
For several months, into 2001, I settled in: Taking employ at the grocery store which I had worked at in high school allowed me to devise another plan. A quote used throughout the movie "Batman Begins" echoes through my head when thinking back on the period: "Why do we fall? So we can learn how to pick ourselves up." Psychologically beaten up and emotionally jaded I decided that I would continue on the path in incremental and deliberate steps: Whatever was to be, I needed to keep moving forward. Early in 2001 I was selected to attend a leadership development course organized and taught by hand-picked members of the Army and Air National Guards of North Dakota by its Joint Executive Council. I attribute much of modern growth as a leader and a person to the material that I learned and have come to practice and adapt in everyday life. This single event may have been the impetus for me to find the internal motivation to move forward with me life.
Though it wasn't glamorous, it was a well-financed move. With education benefits left from the military I matriculated at Western Dakota Tech in their Business Management and Marketing program. In two year's time it would lead me to attaining my first college degree. Carefully reconnoitering, planning, and execution resulted in the move to Rapid City, SD, a transfer from Troop Command to the 109TH Engineer Group in the South Dakota Army National Guard.
In situations where you are trying to make a good impression with an emphasis on establishing substance: Hit the ground running. Immediately, I sought work with my unit on a part-time basis while attending classes at WDTI where I involved myself with a number of student organizations: Student Government, Professional Business Leaders, the Non-Traditional Student Organization, Student Ambassador, and others. My confidence was fueled by the charisma that had been hidden from view for several months. My success was the direct result of the effort that was put forth into it.
I woke up later than usual that morning. Driving into school a news report came across the radio sometime between 7:30 and 8 that morning. It didn't entirely register until I made it to school and more news started flowing in. It wasn't just an isolated incident anymore, but more things were starting to happen. The extent of the entire situation wasn't well-known. Classes, for the most part, didn't take place that day. Instead, some students went home. Most of us huddled around a television seeking any information that we could get. Someone came in from the office stating that members of the National Guard were being called up and needed to report to their units. I drove to my unit to learn that only the military police were being activated, but if I was needed that they wouldn't hesitate to call. What happened in between is still blurry for me, as I was on autopilot. I do recall laying in bed that night and watching the news as Dan Rather reported about the lives that were lost or presumed to be lost with the bloodshed that day: September 11, 2001.
Following this day I found myself still working in various roles for the South Dakota National Guard. One of these duties was as administrative support for the emergency operations center during a busy 2001 fire season. During one such occasion I learned of a security detail that was materializing. My section leader, who was also the adjutant of the unit and would later become the deputy commander, asked me if I would like to become a part of it. I would say yes a few hours later and get a phone call, out of the blue, a couple weeks later. I was told that myself and some other soldiers were being flown to an undisclosed location to undergo training for the duty.
Active duty formally started just as October came about. We started working in two-soldier teams on two shifts across two segments of the day. For most of the time of the tour, there was duty coverage 24 hours a day. I don't plan to delve into the stories of this experience too much at this time.
"So we can learn how to pick ourselves up."
After school had ended and I had been discharged as a result of the tour of duty ending, I found myself with a lot of free time. I welcomed the rest: Two semesters of full-time school plus (more than) full-time work plus a strong complement of extracurricular activities had taken its toll on my life. I used the time to plan my next moves, taking employment for the rest of the summer at Conseco (now GreenTree) Finance doing titling work in their mobile home division.
The next semester of school came several days earlier for me than it did for anyone else: In my roles as student ambassador, student government president, and a representative of a couple other organizations, I supported the first couple days of bringing new students into the fold. When I first started WDTI, I recall the president of the local Phi Beta Lambda/Professional Business Leaders chapter standing up in front of our new class and answering any questions we had. This year that person had become me and one of my best friends, Gary. "Everyone else has come here to learn a specific trade," I conveyed to them, "but each of you have come here to learn how to manage and lead them."
This semester, with money I had saved from my previous two, I did not seek employ outside my own. Getting back into contact with people I had previously been entrepreneurial with, I started a small general partnership with the intent of developing a handful of new-to-the-world products. The rest of my time was devoted to classes and the extracurricular organizations I belonged to. As I had done in the past, I drowned myself in my work: My dreams were fueled by motivation and were being forged by education.
I took 26 credits my final semester at WDTI: Having scheduled full loads my first two semesters, I ended up having to drop a couple classes in order to sustain a class load which would allow me to still do well: Which still resulted in about 14 credits each of those semesters. To this day, I'm not entirely certain how I was able to achieve my entire WDTI experience, but I have a firm belief that everything that I had done previously had prepared me to succeed and do what I needed to do. We are nothing more than the sum of our experiences, it is said: Yesterday's lessons form the wisdom and common sense which allows us to meet the challenges of today and prepare for those of tomorrow. This theme had been a recurring one in my life, and has continued to play a role to this day.
Graduation was a bittersweet event: Everyone was happy for one another, but the adjournment of the friends that we had made in the context which we had made them. I remember the look on my parents' faces when I was awarded my degree: It wasn't since Basic Training when my father told me over the phone that he was proud of me that I had felt so accepted.