41-year-old N.D. woman

Grand Forks Herald GRAND FORKS (AP) -- Since January, Kristi Jo Newland has worn faux dog tags 24/7. "When I wake up, it's a reminder of my task ahead," she said. "And when I jog and hear them jingle, it's an audible reminder that I can't stop ru...

Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS (AP) -- Since January, Kristi Jo Newland has worn faux dog tags 24/7.

"When I wake up, it's a reminder of my task ahead," she said. "And when I jog and hear them jingle, it's an audible reminder that I can't stop running."

Soon, the Grand Forks woman will have authentic dog tags around her neck. She reports today for Army Reserve basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

She's 41 years old, the oldest Reserve recruit known in the state.


"We only have a few guys in their 40s still in the unit," said Capt. Dan Benson, commander of the 461st Engineering Company, based in Fargo. "And they've mostly been in for 20 years.

"I was shocked, amazed and impressed by Kristi Jo joining. I didn't even know you could get in at age 41. But if they're like Kristi Jo, I want more 41-year-olds."

Six months ago, she couldn't enlist. Then, the age limit was 35.

"Even when the limit was 35, we just had a few join up who were in their 30s," said Sgt. Carol Zeitvogel, a recruiter for nine years who signed up Newland.

"Most figure they're just too old to do this. But at 42, it still allows people to get their 20 years in to retire," Zeitvogel said.

Newland sought out Zeitvogel after the National Guard declined to accept her for medical reasons. That denial motivated her further.

"I respect her in every aspect because she's so driven," Zeitvogel said. "She's taking this chance and running with it."

Newland comes from a military family.


She participated in ROTC while in college. Her daughter, Terra, takes part in high school ROTC. Both her father and grandfather were in the military. And she has been married for eight months to Bruce Newland, a full-time motor sergeant with the National Guard 132nd Quartermaster Company, based in Grand Forks.

She already has part of the protocol down -- she addresses others as "sir" or "ma'am."

"That's not a military thing," she said. "That's the way I was raised in Texas. South of the Mason-Dixon Line, saying ma'am and sir is required."

Although patriotism is important, Newland is clear about her No. 1 motivation for joining the Army.

"For 23 years, I've been chasing that elusive nursing degree," she said. "I put that mostly on hold to raise my kids. I want it so bad that I can taste it."

A nurse's aide at Altru Health Systems with some nursing schooling, she needs two years of college to become a registered nurse.

"The Army will pay about $24,000 for that education on top of my $9,000 enlistment bonus," she said. "I felt it's pointless at my age to take out loans to get it done. I'd waste another 10 years to pay off the loans."

Her education will come at different costs, however. The first sacrifice is being gone from her husband and four children until February. First comes nine weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., then 19 weeks at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to train as a combat medic.


"Before doing this, we sat down at the table and made sure my kids supported it," Newland said.

Brittany, 18, is away at college, but Terra, 16; Jerrica, 12; and Landon, 10, will remain at their apartment home with their stepfather.

"I'm not going to lie and say it will be easy," Terra said. "But we'll pull together, bend together and get through this. We're all rooting for her because she's wanted to do this for so long."

Another price to pay will be the rigorous physical training of basic.

"I'll be running with the young dogs," she said. "I'll be pushing up and sitting up with people half my age. I'll be the den mother."

After struggling to run a block when she started training, she can now handle three miles. When asked if she's ready for basic, she rolls up her sleeve and flexes, showing a rock-hard, tattooed biceps.

Then, she makes a statement for the sixth time in a 90-minute conversation: "Failing is not an option."

Another potential sacrifice is being activated and sent to a war zone, putting herself in peril during her six-year commitment to the Army.


"The Army can do anything it wants with me once I've raised my hand," she said. "My school will be put on hold if they need me. The reality is that some time in those six years, I'll be called to serve stateside or abroad."

As a single mother for four years, she's learned survival and grit.

"We didn't do food stamps or housing assistance," Newland said. "I worked three to four jobs, and we just dug a little deeper.

"But I've done my share of just making ends meet. I want more."

She's also learned organization. On the wall is a list of household chores on a chart that goes for weeks. Next to it are printouts of family rules and inspirational sayings.

The children say their mom inspires them. "We're so proud of her," Landon said.

Said Jerrica, "I don't want her to go. But she's wanted to do it for so long that she just has to do it."

The biggest challenge, Newland said, won't be the physical part. "I can just cowgirl-up," she said. "I have cowgirl in me."


The toughest part figures to be the seven-month absence from her family. "I can barely handle it when they're gone to camp for a week," she said.

But she's determined not to lose this opportunity to become a nurse, a goal she's sought for two decades.

"You can wear fake dog tags because they look cool," she said. "But you need to earn the real ones."

The Grand Forks Herald and The Jamestown Sun are?both owned by Forum Communications Co.

What To Read Next
Get Local