One-two-three-four! United States Marine Corps! The echoes of boot camp chants have since been replaced with calling out cow ear tag numbers “two-five-nine-one” during herd health checks. It’s been thirteen years since I’ve graduated arguably the toughest basic training there is and if you would have told me then, that exactly ten years later I would be a partner in a dairy farm, I’m skeptical that I would have believed you.
I grew up in southern Sheboygan county surrounded and enthralled by farming. I started carpet farming at a young age, mimicking the neighbors I saw outside my windows. It wasn’t too long after that I was riding my bike around the neighborhood anytime there was something going on, just so I could watch and also hoping they’d let me ride along. By the time I was 13, I was milking cows for the neighbor, always anxious to learn new jobs like feeding calves, driving skid steer and ultimately graduating from operating 1/64 toy tractors to driving the real thing.
Growing up, I always felt a calling to the military. My best friend’s dad was a retired Marine, so he instilled in me what his dad taught him; that the Marines were the toughest and the best. Coupling that with the encouragement that others gave me, I decide with absolute certainty that I was going to be a Marine. Two months prior to the start of my senior year of high school, I had signed my life away to the U.S. government. Being 17 at that time, it required my mom signing off with her approval, which was no easy task being in the midst of two wars. But as she’ll say today, “He was going to do it anyway so I might as well be supportive”.
Boot camp brought about many new things. Beyond being pushed past physical and mental limits, it truly brought about a maturity and character building that is hard to find anywhere else. You find new limits to what you’re capable of, whether it be training for combat or learning that you can stay up socializing until 3 a.m. and still wake up at 5 a.m. to run 8 miles. In 2007 I was deployed to Iraq as a motor transportation mechanic, fixing humvees and trucks in the Al-Anbar province at the Al-taqaddum air base. The summer heat was brutal, the hours were long, but we were all there on one mission. It didn’t matter whether or not we believed in the merits of that war, or any war, our brothers were there and we were going to support and assist them in every way possible. At that point in time, your race, religion, where you were from or political bias didn’t matter. We all not only wanted to go home to our families, but we wanted the same for our brothers. Back in the States, I changed command units, changed roles and got promoted to another rank, but life in the Marine Corps, especially as the wars slowed down, was not something I desired. By May of 2009 I was on my way home from Camp Lejuene, heading for life’s next adventure.
I decided to utilize my mechanic experience and started as a mechanic in a local warehouse and by fall I was starting technical college to further that training. While there, I started milking cows part time and my life once again changed course. I fell back in love with what I grew up doing and by the end of my first semester, I decided I wanted to farm. I furthered what I learned growing up with a year of schooling at Lakeshore Technical College while also mentoring at a local dairy farm. All was well until I felt the urge for more. I started to look for ownership opportunities and through a local program and a couple of tries, I found a farm near Chilton that was looking for someone like me. Since that time in March of 2013, I’ve gone from parlor manager, to head feeder and have also started helping with harvest schedules, planning and working with our local growers that we purchase feed from.
Like any good farmer, that wasn’t quite enough. And when a previous employer becomes your Farm Bureau district coordinator, you’ll soon find yourself being asked to help out! As I start my second year on the Calumet County Farm Bureau board, I’m beginning to really find my place. We’ve set some lofty goals this year, but I’m hoping to help guide our local farmers with new regulations and also work with our local governments in ensuring that new regulations are fair for both farmers and our neighbors.