It is truly an unusual time in our history. Not to mention the health crisis, there is a definite shift in the mood of the country. The tolerance for greed and excesses seems to be diminishing. There is glory in being kind, patient, unselfish and generous.
For some time, our military has relied on volunteers to staff our branches of service. This is a radical departure from when young men were drafted and had no choice on whether to serve or not.
One local soldier took the time to explain why the benefits of military life are attracting young men and women to their ranks.
Matt Justice, Eagle River, was in high school at Northland Pines when he met with a recruiter. Like most students his age, he really had not developed a life plan and was undecided as to what he was going to do after high school.
After talking to his parents, “I met a recruiter and he sold me on the Guard. He sold me on the benefits. He sold me on the life experience. He sold me on the adventure. I knew that after talking with my parents it was a great decision for me just because they (the National Guard) would pay for college. So having that, in addition to all the other benefits, that along with serving in the military, it made sense. It was one of those decisions that I felt good about and my parents felt good about. I knew I was making the right decision.”
Right after graduation in 2003, Justice went for Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training in Fort Leonard Wood. Unlike many new recruits, he did not feel that the training was all that hard and he truly enjoyed it. He did admit there were some difficult times as he was not any sort of athlete, but the relationships he forged outweighed the physical demands.
The only real complaint he had was that he never had enough to eat. He was constantly hungry on the disciplined, healthy diet he was served.
“I loved being on the range. I loved wearing the uniform. I loved the way my parents looked at me in uniform. I loved the attention I got. It was such positive attention for doing something for your country, for your community. It set the basis for a really healthy relationship that you could have with a job. It set the standard for how it should feel doing any job.
“You should be thinking about others. It should be spiritual in a sense. It should fulfill you and it should be something you can provide for a family and set you up for the future.
“The National Guard, the Army, and the military did all of that. It was a great basis to start any adolescence. It gave you an idea of “What Right Looks Like.”
Justice went on to elaborate that he was still a kid after his six month training period and he had some growing to do. That six months of training did have its hard times. He thought, at that time, that he was just going to serve one enlistment and go on to college.
What changed him the most was his first deployment in 2008. Prior to that, Justice reported to the 951st Engineer Company, Wisconsin Army National Guard in Rhinelander. There he became fast friends with Sgt. Ryan Adams who took Justice under his wing. Sadly, he was in Adams’s unit in Afghanistan where Adams was killed taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Justice said the Afghanistan experience turned his attitude around towards a career in the military. “It wasn’t until I was deployed and I put the skills and I put the values I espoused to real use — selfless service, duty, honor, and integrity. It wasn’t until I had to put those into action that something clicked within me and I found a true calling and purpose.
“It was a very tough deployment, it was violent and it was dangerous and it was difficult. But not all of it was bad.
“That experience, wanting to continue service for Ryan, wanting to continue service because it was the only thing in my life that was not self-serving and it was for the greater good. It made me feel proud. It made my parents proud. It was an amazing experience. I say that full knowing the tragedy that came along with it. I am attaching meaning to that deployment out of respect for Ryan,” he recalled in a strong voice.
Keeping a promise to his parents, he took a break from the military. However, his separation from Army life had a big impact on him.
“The following two-and-a-half years were the toughest on me that I could imagine. I missed the support network. I missed my friends. I missed the sense of purpose. I missed the adventure and the excitement that comes along with being in the military.
“So I went right back in. This time I was more mature and had a different mission set. I was taking my abilities as a combat engineer as far as I possibly could.”
Next week the story of this remarkable young man continues. Learn how he pushes himself to the limit to attain his Sapper Tab. He will change his career path in the National Guard when he becomes the recruiter at the Rhinelander recruiting location. Then his brother joins him as they open the new, fabulous Craftsman American Tavern. It is a fascinating story of how our youth of today have become the most elite fighting force in the world.