Carlson School in Summer

Veteran Perspectives

Thursday, April 1, 2010

By Phil Bolsta

It’s hard to say which will benefit Ross Hedlund most—his Carlson School degree or his two tours of duty in Iraq that bookended his college experience. Hedlund, now 24, enlisted in the National Guard at 17 and spent a year in Balad, Iraq, right out of high school. When he returned February 2005, he enrolled at the Carlson School.

Shortly before graduating in December 2008, Hedlund learned he would be deployed again in April 2009, this time to Basra, Iraq. He ended up serving as the assistant to the chief of staff in the 34th Infantry Division (commonly known as the Red Bulls).

Ross Hedlund

Hedlund says his education made him a better soldier. “My time in Basra gave me opportunities to apply the principles and knowledge I learned at the Carlson School,” he says. “For example, how different leadership styles work or didn’t work, how people interact in meetings, and how people manage to get things done and handle schedules.”

The tours in Iraq also made a lasting impression on him. “One day, I was talking to a Ugandan contractor and an Iraqi about our future plans,” he recalls. “The Iraqi wanted to make more money so he could get married, build a home, and have security for his family. I talked about wanting to go to graduate school and get into commercial real estate development. The Ugandan said he was saving money to go back home and build schools for children. We had dramatically different backgrounds, but we were all trying to work toward a better future for ourselves and the people around us.”

Those and other experiences, he adds, have given him a solid foundation for his future. “My work week in Iraq was generally at least 90 hours, there was always the threat of imminent danger, and during my second deployment there were fewer of us, so each person was doing work that was previously done by two or three people,” he says. “Based on all that, I’ll certainly have a different perspective on stress than my peers.”

Hedlund says he is grateful for all he learned and experienced in Iraq. “I have a much greater appreciation for a lot of things I took for granted before,” he says. “I’m glad I could give something back for being able to live in such a great country.”

Note: Hedlund maintained a blog during his time in Iraq.