N.D. Guard soldier prepares for fifth deploymentSgt. Jacob Bollinger joined the North Dakota Army National Guard as a junior in high school, thinking it would mean military drills on weekends.
By: By Mike Nowatzki, The Forum, The Jamestown Sun
VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Sgt. Jacob Bollinger joined the North Dakota Army National Guard as a junior in high school, thinking it would mean military drills on weekends.
Bollinger, 26, has now served two tours of duty in Iraq. A peacekeeping mission to Kosovo later this year will be his fifth active-duty deployment — the most of any North Dakota National Guard soldier since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Guard spokeswoman Amy Wieser Willson said.
“I thought I was going to school to become an electrical lineman and just drill (on weekends) and work for some tower company,” said Bollinger, an Edgeley native. “But stuff happens.”
Guard members have played a more active role in military operations since 9/11. As of early November, the North Dakota Guard had 19 soldiers who had deployed three times, Willson said.
Master Sgt. Kenneth Schuldheisz, who recruited Bollinger for his first tour in Iraq, said his case “is a little more outstanding than most.”
Bollinger said family tradition drew him to the military. His father, who died when he was 11, served in the Navy and the Guard. Both his grandfathers served in the military.
Bollinger had completed his training and had just started taking classes at Bismarck State College when 9/11 happened.
He finished the semester and volunteered for the military in March 2002, spending the next six months inspecting vehicles and working security on the U.S.-Canadian border, stationed in the town of Sarles, and later at the Air National Guard’s 119th Wing in Fargo.
As his tour ended in December 2003, Bollinger said, he thought about going active-duty Army, hoping it would be his ticket to Iraq or Afghanistan.
He was preparing for the transfer to the Army in June 2004, when Schuldheisz called. The Guard’s 141st Engineer Combat Battalion had lost two soldiers and needed replacements in Iraq.
“He’s very gung-ho and dedicated to the battalion and National Guard,” Schuldheisz said. “He was one of the first ones who popped into my mind, actually.”
Bollinger recalls the conversation: “He goes, ‘You can be there in two weeks if you stay (in the Guard).’ So I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Just 12 days into his deployment, he was manning a machine gun with a road-clearing crew north of Baghdad.
They found roadside bombs daily and were frequently ambushed, he said. Their equipment consisted of Humvees and 50-year-old dump trucks reinforced with welded steel plates.
“Every bomb we found, we saved on average about two, three lives or injuries,” he said.
Bollinger returned to Edgeley in February 2005, and worked briefly as a Guard technician before landing a job installing natural gas lines for Xcel Energy in Fargo.
But by October 2006, the Guard life had lured him back, and he took a full-time job as a Guard technician in Edgeley.
When the Guard’s 817th and 815th engineer companies were alerted in January 2007, Bollinger saw that many of those called up were members of the 141st company who had served in Iraq earlier. Unlike many of them, he didn’t have a wife or children.
“I volunteered to get my name in the slot so maybe someone with a hardship wouldn’t have to go,” he said.
His second deployment to Iraq started in June 2007.
This time, he knew what to expect, and he knew more of his fellow soldiers, some of them younger Guard members from Edgeley. Instead of being a gunner, he was a team leader in a heavily armored Humvee. The equipment was newer and better able to withstand bomb blasts, Bollinger said.
Between his two tours in Iraq, Bollinger’s vehicles were hit by roadside bombs nine times, he said. He avoided serious injury, but did suffer shrapnel wounds.
“There’s some people that don’t know yet, like my mother,” he chuckled.
His mother, Michelle Bollinger, said she knows there’s a lot her son doesn’t tell her. She asks only that he call her at least once every 10 days while he’s deployed, and he does.
The family is “very proud” of “Jake,” who started walking the four blocks from their house to the National Guard Armory in Edgeley to chat with the soldiers when he was about 15 years old, Michelle Bollinger said.
“Jake has always been a leader and one that is very daring,” she said. “He goes after what he wants to do.”
When his second tour in Iraq ended last July, Bollinger decided he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and join the Navy’s explosive ordinance disposal team. Then he was asked by the Guard to go full-time as active duty for operational support.
He’s now working in Valley City, helping the 231st Brigade Support Battalion prepare for its mission to Kosovo later this year. He volunteered to tag along.
Bollinger said he has no regrets about the different path his life has taken.
“I’ve met people I never would have met,” he said. “I’ve been around the world. I’ve seen the first open election in Iraq. I can hopefully say I’ve saved lives, just serving our country with the men and women that you stand beside.”
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