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Student soldiers sacrifice traditional experience to serve
Student soldiers sacrifice college experience to serve nation.
By Grace Webb, Free Press Correspondent [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 11/17/2011]
With another Veterans Day recently passed, thoughts this week have turned to soldiers fighting lonely wars overseas. Not all veterans have harrowing memories of being shot at or losing a close friend in battle, but every American soldier has sacrificed to serve his or her country.
At Minnesota State Mankato, dozens of students are either now-inactive veterans or currently serving in the military. Some have seen deployments; others have stayed within American borders. Some have been wounded in battle; others have lost close friends.
Different student veterans have different experiences as they readjust to college life, but all of them go through challenging times. Sometimes, it’s easy to think about the sacrifices soldiers make in the line of fire, but harder to remember the challenges they face when they arrive back home.
Jennifer Westberg, a junior at Minnesota State Mankato, joined the Army National Guard when she was 17, still in high school. She has been active for seven years now and plans to retire from the military.
Westberg said it was challenging to be a high school student and in the military, but she was glad she joined when she did. She said it was also tough being one of very few females in the service.
Westberg was deployed to Iraq in 2009, where she worked 15-hour days as part of a political cell that dealt with the inner workings of the military. While the days were tough, Westberg still found time to experience new cultures, from riding camels to sand surfing. In fact, she said her deployment experience was overall amazing.
Westberg will commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army National Guard when she graduates from in 2013.
While many soldiers share similar experiences with Westberg, joining before college, other veterans join up later. Sean Eastling, who will also graduate from Minnesota State Mankatgo in 2013, joined the Army National Guard when he was 25. He said he joined because he felt his life was unstable and he had friends in the military.
Eastling enlisted in the infantry and served there during his first three years. Now, he works at setting up observation points and calling in backup fire for fellow troops. He was deployed to Kosovo in 2008.
There, he and fellow soldiers went on patrols to keep an eye on troop movements and also offer humanitarian aid to needy people. He said he never got shot at, but the days were so monotonous, they started blurring together.
Now he is able to continue pursuing his studies for a business management degree. He said he isn’t planning on staying in the National Guard.
Andrew Wesolowski, a Minnesota State Mankato junior, has been serving in the Army for the past eight and a half years. He has served in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq, helping to patrol one of the “most dangerous roads in the world” while in Baghdad.
For the complete Free Press story, see Thursday's print edition, or go to the e-edition at http://mankatofreepress.mn.newsmemory.com/.