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Oakes' Joe Schaefer shines light on N.D. National Guard

Joe Schaefer, a senior at Oakes High School, missed part of the football season due to basic training.

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Joe Schaefer (59) is a starter for the Oakes High School football team. He has also enlisted into the North Dakota National Guard as a senior in high school.
Contributed / Greg Dobitz
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OAKES, N.D. — Joe Schaefer, a senior at Oakes High School, isn't waiting to receive his diploma to start his career or serve his country.

"I chose the North Dakota National Guard because it allowed me to start my career earlier, as it allowed me to start my contract just a few months after I turned 17," Schaefer said. "The National Guard also has been very flexible with me and my schedule, allowing me to still be a student."

Schaefer left for basic training on June 1 and was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, until Aug. 11. Schaefer then returned home and began training for his senior year of football.

"Coming home was a little weird, like having to wear ‘regular’ clothes every day and preparing my own meals," Schaefer said. "It wasn’t as much of a shock as I thought it would be, but I can see how I’ve changed from basic after being home for some time."

He's not the only one who has changed.

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Schaefer said that in previous years, the Oakes football team had bigger guys that they could use for linemen but that doesn't mean the Tornadoes are down and out.

"This year our team is just as physical as last year's, while also being much quicker," Schaefer said. "We don’t have holes to fill as much as we need to establish a way to incorporate both our brute force and our speed."

The Tornadoes are off to a 5-0 overall and 4-0 Region 1 start. The team has got defending Class B 11-man champs, Kindred, next on the schedule. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 23.

Schaefer said competing in sports gave him a great foundation heading into the military.

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"Through sports like football, we learn to be a part of a team as well as understanding your role in that team," Schaefer said. "This helps translate throughout life when working with other individuals. Sports can help you become a more well-rounded person for life after high school or college.

"The military is the exact same way, but instead of it being a small part of your life, the military becomes part of you," he said.

Schaefer comes from a military background. His grandfather was a corporal in the Marine Corps out of high school while his uncle is a colonel in the Minnesota National Guard. Schaefer's sister is a specialist in the North Dakota National Guard.

"Joe is a quite a leader, his teammates notice how hard he is working and try to match his work ethic and intesity," Oakes head football coach Greg Dobitz said. "Going all the way back to when I taught Joe in fourth grade, I knew he would be a soldier one day.

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"I cannot express how proud I am to say that I have taught and coached Joe," Dobitz said. "Honor, sacrifice and dedication to a cause greater than himself is exactly what Joe is all about. We see it at football practice every day."

Schaefer said he chose to enlist as early as he could, making him what they call a "split-op"

"This allows me to go through basic training my summer after my Junior year and I finish my training at Fort Lee, Virginia, for my advanced individual training (AIT)," Schaefer said. "I also saw the benefits my sister had with them, and it motivated me to enlist."

Schaefer said competing in sports prepared him physically for the challenges that basic training threw his way.

"Physically during basic, we would work out every day except Sunday, most of the time around 5:30 a.m.," he said. "We also would have to do exercises for doing things improperly, and that could last a minute to a whole hour of working out."

While he was prepared for the physical demands his military training would require, Schaefer said the mental toll was much greater than he expected.

Through mentally taxing events like a 10-mile victory march after the Forge, the National Guard has instilled the company's mentality of "Dig In, Dig Deep" in Schaefer's brain.

"I encourage people to strive to do both sports and military, knowing that it can form and shape them into better people," Schaefer said. "You are a representation of that organization and people take pride in that."

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Schaefer will be in the Tornadoes' lineup all season long as he can’t be called by the National Guard, even in national emergencies.

Schaefer just has one weekend a month until he graduates and finishes his training at AIT. The one weekend a month will just be preparations for what he will learn in AIT.

The AIT training is for Schaefer's Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), which is a 91B or also called wheeled vehicle mechanic

After the 14 weeks of training, Schaefer will attend the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) for its three-year Automotive and Diesel Master Technician course. This will give him an Associate in Applied Sciences and an even better understanding of automotive.

"Basic wasn’t as hard as it sounds," Schaefer said. "I saw a lot of people get through that I was sure weren’t going to make it. These people are my inspiration. I saw them push on through injuries and difficult events just to claim that title of soldier.

"Those people are the embodiment of a warrior and soldier," he said. "To push on even when, you are tired, sore, hungry, or even injured, because you know the person next to has your back and you need to do the same for them."

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Joe Schaefer (59) gears up for a tackle during a Class B 11-man football game. Contributed / Greg Dobitz

Katie Ringer is a sports reporter for the Jamestown Sun. Katie joined the Sun staff in the summer of 2019 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire with a degree in journalism. She can be reached by email at kringer@jamestownsun.com or by phone at 701-952-8460.
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