Sons & Daughters - 7,000-mile trek for deer—and family

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Joel Helgerson, a 1995 Central graduate, is currently posted in Kuwait where, as free time allows, he participates in competitive races.

Major Joel Helgerson will return later this year from a deployment in Kuwait. He’ll then relocate to Alaska where he will likely finish his military career.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Some people will travel great distances to go deer hunting in Northeast Iowa. Few, however, can top the trip made by Joel Helgerson, who recently trekked nearly 7,000 miles from his post in Kuwait to his hometown of Elkader just to bag a trophy buck—and see his family and friends, of course.

Helgerson didn’t get his deer but the trip was still a great success. He was able to spend time with folks he hadn’t seen since his deployment began last June.

“Coming home is a good thing,” he said. “I’m always reminded when I visit what a close-knit community this is, and what a sense of pride people have in it. People here are willing to help each other out, which is not something you see everywhere.”

A 1995 Central graduate who earned a degree from the University of Northern Iowa in 2000, Helgerson has spent the last 15 years living in various places in the U.S. and elsewhere. He’s been to Georgia and Kansas a couple of times. He’s also lived in North Carolina and the state of Washington. He’s been to Korea and Kuwait—twice. When his current deployment ends later this year, he’ll relocate to Alaska where he’ll likely finish out his military career. Helgerson could retire from the Army in four years.

“The military life isn’t for everybody,” he admits. “It’s a very rules-based, standards-based career with long hours and very little input over where you’ll go next. But it was the right choice for me, one I haven’t regretted making.”

Helgerson started his post-secondary work at Iowa State University. He transferred after his first year to UNI, where he pursued a degree in elementary education. At UNI, he was in ROTC and also a member of the Iowa National Guard. He graduated with the rank of second lieutenant. Other promotions followed—first lieutenant, captain and, currently, major. Other opportunities followed as well, including the chance to finish a master’s degree in adult and continuing education.

“The Army has a great tuition plan and college classes are offered on every base. So it makes sense to take advantage of it,” he added.

Helgerson is the son of Jeanne Helgerson and Gary Helgerson, both of Elkader. While at Central, he participated in wrestling, cross country and track. He credits high school sports with developing the leadership skills and sense of discipline that have served him well in his military career. He still enjoys distance running and has competed in several races.

In a long career marked by accomplishment, an advanced college degree and promotions, Helgerson points to two external phenomena—and not something he, himself, has achieved—as having a significant impact on his military life. The first is the advent of social media.

“Kuwait to Elkader, that’s a 9-hour time difference,” he said. “But with Facebook and email, I can communicate in real time. It’s so much easier to stay connected and to feel like you’re a part of everything back home even when you’re so far away.

And the second phenomenon? That would be the support and respect given to men and women in uniform.

“The show of support, especially in the last 12 years or so, has been amazing,” Helgerson said. “I’ve seen it many times. There have been times when I’ve been in a restaurant with my military bag and someone will ask to buy my dinner just to show how much they appreciate what we are doing for them—for all of them. It’s a really great feeling. It makes me glad that I do what I do.”

Editor’s note: If you know someone who might be a good candidate for this series, contact the Register at ccrnews@alpinecom.net or 245-1311.

 
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