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Paynesville Press - April 23, 2003

Student puts college on hold for war

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

When Joe Koshiol joined the Minnesota National Guards while he was still in high school, he thought it would be a great way to help pay for college. Now, because he's serving in the war in Iraq, he has had to put his education on hold.

Joe is attached to a National Guard unit from Fort Ripley that was activated and sent to Fort Carson in Colorado in January. They were supposed to be sent to Turkey right away, but because that country denied allowing United States troops to land there, his unit ended up waiting over two months to leave. His unit shipped out to the Middle East on Thursday, April 10.

The 142nd Engineering Batallion builds roads, runways, and foundations. Although Joe is trained as a generator mechanic, while he is in the Middle East, he will also work as a carpenter building concrete forms and scaffolding.

According to Joe's father, Tom Koshiol, their unit is currently building a base in Baghdad, and he believes his son's unit will have a part in rebuilding Iraq.

Joe grew up in Paynesville, attended PAHS until his junior year, and graduated from Rocori High School in 2001.

Joe wanted to study heating and air conditioning at St. Cloud Technical College, but the program had a waiting list, so he couldn't start until fall 2003. In the meantime he took classes in sales and marketing and has completed about a year of college. He could be in the Middle East for up to two years.

Joe has accepted that he will miss the start of his program next fall, but he knows he has a job to do and he isn't angry, said Tom. "He said he's getting a different kind of education," said Joe's mother, Leslie Zimmer of St. Joseph.

"He's extremely proud that he's doing something his grandfather did," she added. Joe's grandfather, Milt Koshiol, served in the United States Army during WWII and was held as a POW by the Germans for a month.

According to Tom, Joe misses his family and his girlfriend, and he's a little frightened too. "I would hate to have you over there not being scared," Tom said he told his son before he left. "Sometimes fear is a good thing."

Like many other units, the 142nd Engineering Batallion has a reporter embedded with it. Since the batallion is made up of units from North Dakota and Minnesota National Guards, the reporter is from a Fargo television station, so Joe's family has been following the unit over the Internet through the station's website.

Since his unit only deployed recently, the family doesn't know how often they will hear from him, but Joe was able to call home from Kuwait City over Easter weekend. "He actually called his girlfriend, and she passed information on to me," laughed his mother. "I don't care who he calls, as long as I get the information," she added.

Joe said his unit was expecting to spend Easter Sunday building a camp in Northern Iraq for incoming troops.

Though she's glad he isn't on the front lines, Leslie still worries about her son. Since this is an exciting time for Joe, she tries to keep her sadness to herself. "As long as he's safe, I'm excited for him,"she said.

Leslie believes that every man and woman in the military is important to the war effortÉfrom the cooks to the construction engineers.

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