LARAMIE, Neb. - The choice to join the military is no small thing. Some join out of a life-long ambition to serve one's country. Others join out of a long family tradition of service. Some are drawn by the chance to make a better life or see the world. For Cadet Maggie Walstrom, a Buffalo, Minnesota, native and Soldier with the 353rd Transportation Company, the decision came out of the blue.
Cadet Maggie Walstrom, left, takes charge of the company formation after a long day of convoy operations with the 353rd Transportation Company July 11, 2015. Walstrom is currently serving as a platoon leader during the company's convoy operation from Buffalo, Minn., to Camp Roberts, Calif. The convoy operation began July 9, 2015 and is moving 44 Soldiers and more than 20 cargo-laden military vehicles more than 2,000 miles cross-country as part of an annual training initiative known as Nationwide Move. The 353rd Transportation Company's westward trek will not only provide training for its Soldiers, but also practical logistics support to its sister unit, the 322nd Maintenance Company, which will be conducting its annual training in California. (US Army Photo by Sgt Victor Ayala, 210th MPAD)
"I'd been talking to a friend in high school who had just gotten back from Basic Combat Training," she said. "At that time, I didn't know what I was going to do with my life. So, I was in the gym one day at school and said to myself, 'I'm joining the Reserves when I turn 17.'"
She recalls first telling her parents about the decision: "I told my mom and she thought I was nuts," she said. "My whole family thought I was crazy."
The rest happened quickly. On her 17th birthday, Walstrom signed her enlistment contract, and went off to Basic Combat Training in April 2012. In her short time in the Reserves, she's worked diligently to prove that though her choice to serve was made quickly, her charge is not taken lightly. Walstrom has gone from the rank of private to a Cadet in Minnesota State University at Mankato's Reserve Officers Training Corps. She has also gone on from her position as an enlisted automated logistics specialist to an acting platoon leader in the 353rd.
Her choice to become an officer was as serendipitous as her choice to enlist. Her unit was hosting a Family Readiness Group fundraiser during which key positions in the unit were auctioned off for a day, and Walstrom won the position of 353rd Transportation Company Commander. Though her day in "command" was all in good fun, Walstrom felt compelled by the notion of leading and commanding Soldiers.
"It was only for about eight or nine hours," Walstrom said. "But it opened my eyes to some of what an officer does and it really interested me."
Since becoming a Cadet, Walstrom's leadership at the 353rd has been trusting her with more and more responsibility, designating her 1st Platoon Leader and assigning her more leadership-based tasks. On July 11, during the 353rd's weeklong convoy mission from Buffalo, Minn., to Camp Roberts, California, Walstrom took charge of the company formation and held a promotion ceremony for a junior enlisted Soldier.
"This has been a really rewarding and positive experience," Walstrom said. "Some of the Soldiers are starting to treat me with more respect, too."
Walstrom's recent achievements extend beyond her military career. Walstrom is studying law enforcement at MSU Mankato in the hopes of becoming a law enforcement officer like her late uncle, Rudy Betlach. Raised solely by her mother, Walstrom looked to Betlach as a father figure.
"He was my idol, my hero," Walstrom said of her uncle. "I looked up to him. He was a police officer in Anoka, Minnesota. I've decided to follow in his footsteps."
Walstrom may not have ever guessed she'd come so far so quickly. In high school, she thought college would be too expensive for a child growing up in a single-parent household to even consider. However, since beginning classes, she's been hired onto the North Mankato Police Reserves and the River Halls Mall Security Force in Mankato. She was also recently awarded a $25,000 scholarship from MSU Mankato, which in addition to her ROTC stipend, is making a college education a reality.
When asked what she hopes to do once she becomes an Army officer, her first thoughts are of her fellow troops and the bonds she's forged in the 353rd.
"I've got roots here in the unit," she says. "I want to stay in transportation. I want to stay with the trucks. I love being on convoys, so I hope to stay in this unit."
Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, Walstrom will get a chance to command the 353rd for more than a day. If her current successes are any indication, it will be no surprise to see Walstrom commanding troops very soon.
By U.S. Army Sgt Victor Ayala
Provided through DVIDS
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