Austin Gordon spent the last ten years serving overseas in three different deployments with the North Dakota National Guard, while attending Valley City State University and raising a family of three with his wife Nicole. He said traveling with the Guard gave him much to learn and much to experience.
Gordon, staff sergeant, was first deployed to Kosovo in 2000, two years after he joined the military. His engineer battalion spent six months there, doing construction on the camp and a little work in the surrounding areas.
Almost ten years later, Gordon noticed quite a difference when he served in Kosovo again during his third deployment.
While in Kosovo the first time, Gordon said electricity was shut off to the towns and the people of Kuwait looked strangely at the soldiers, wondering what they were doing when they were gathering supplies in Kuwait City.
Ten years later, Gordon said the electricity situation seemed to be better, and “the people were great, they were friendly.”
Between those years, he also spent a year serving in Kuwait and Iraq.
Gordon originally decided to join the military as a way to pay for college, and also because his dad was in the Guard.
In between his first two deployments, Gordon attended Valley City State University. He joined the National Guard in August 1998 and started at VCSU in 1999, where he attended one year before being deployed to Kosovo in 2000. After returning to the United States, Gordon attended VCSU another year, was deployed again, and then got one more year of college done after coming back from his second deployment.
Still in the active reserves of the National Guard, Gordon recalls being nervous when he first started.
“I started going to drills before I went to basic training, so I knew a lot of the guys there when my dad was in the unit with them, so it was alright then,” Gordon said.
But once he started basic training, he became nervous “because then that’s a new environment and something you’re not really used to.”
“It was a little nerve-racking the first month, and you get into a routine, and once you get a routine down, it’s pretty easy going,” he said.
Once Gordon was deployed, it wasn’t easy for him to maintain communication with his family and friends in the U.S.
Right away during his deployment, they only had access to phones about once every couple of weeks, and even then, “the phones are hit and miss.
Sometimes they’d work, and sometimes they would go out in the middle of the sentence,” he said.
And often time, they spent hours standing in line to use the phone, only to get a minute of talking time.
The soldiers eventually gained internet access, which was also hit and miss at first.
“It wasn’t like being at home and being on the internet and phone,” Gordon said.
Towards the end of his deployment, the service to the phones and internet became better and more efficient.
When they did have down time, Gordon and others played a lot of card games and Xbox and PlayStation to entertain themselves.
“You rely on each other to make the time go by fast,” he said. “So if one person’s having a bad day, you learn to help them out; they help you out.”
During his travels overseas, Gordon was exposed to a difference of cultures, including food.
He said the food he ate overseas wasn’t the greatest but it was better than an MRE (Meals-Ready-to-Eat).
“It worked out good — you’d get sick of the food so you wouldn’t eat as much; it was a good diet program,” Gordon said with a laugh.
“They did the best they could with what they had,” he added.
When asked what cultural differences he noticed between the U.S. and other countires while overseas, Gordon said people of Kuwait “didn’t have rules and laws like we did. People smoked where they wanted, and safety wasn’t a concern.”
After coming back to the United States, Gordon and his family had to adjust to the change. He said there were times of struggle, but they worked through it.
When he left for his first deployment, his oldest daughter was only 6-8 months old, so it took a lot of adjusting for her when Gordon returned. The time he’d come back after his second deployment, they had three kids by then: two daughters, MaKayla and Alexxys and son, Seth.
Getting back into his old routine also helped Gordon.
“I went to work probably two weeks after I got back (from his first deployment) just to help transition back to normal lifestyle,” he said.
He worked for Mark and Linda Moser at the old Corner Convenience store.
“They welcomed me back, and that helped a lot to get back to work, cause they were great to work for, and they had understood everything,” he said.
One way Gordon said his service and experiences influenced him was that he learned not to take things for granted.
“You go to places like Iraq and Kosovo, and you see where a lot of times people don’t have running water and electricity.”
“We missed the small things like fast food and stuff, and a lot of those people don’t even have food to eat sometimes,” he said.
Gordon’s experiences also resulted in friendships.
“You develop friendships with guys that you won’t stay in touch so much, but you know when you see them, you can sit down and it’s like you don’t miss a beat,” he said. “You still laugh and joke about the things you did.”
Still in the active reserves, Gordon spends his days working for F.E.I. and raising his family in Valley City.