Back from Iraq with a new perspective

Matt Everson should have been ecstatic. It was March of 2007, and he and his teammates on the Minnesota wrestling team had just captured the NCAA championship. But Everson had something bigger than sports on his mind. That week, he had received a call that his Army National Guard unit would be deployed to Iraq the following October. He had known for some time that the call might come; it didnâÄôt mean he was prepared. âÄúI wasnâÄôt really ready to go over there at that point in my life,âÄù Everson said. How could he have been? It was the middle of his junior year. âÄúObviously I wanted to finish school, I wanted to wrestle; I wanted to continue my life as I knew it.âÄù Everson enlisted with his best friend in September of 2003 âÄì during his senior year of high school. He considered the Army Reserve OfficersâÄô Training Corps program and was enrolled in it for his freshman year at Minnesota, but it conflicted with his wrestling schedule and he decided to remain with the National Guard. That meant he spent one weekend per month and two weeks per year with his unit in his hometown of Mitchell, SD. Both ROTC and the National Guard involved significant time commitments, but neither required that Everson put his life on hold âÄì until that day in March. âÄúThere were a lot of mixed emotions,âÄù Everson said of getting the phone call while at the 2007 national tournament. âÄúItâÄôs not a happy thing to hear; you have a long road ahead of you when you hear that. YouâÄôve got your emotions up fromâĦyour team winning nationals, but youâÄôve got to serve a purpose in a couple months. âÄúYou have to get your mind stable for that as soon as possible so even that weekend I was already preparing myself.âÄù Everson didnâÄôt sign up for Iraq âÄì he signed up for the National Guard. ThereâÄôs a distinction between the two that many people miss, head coach J Robinson said. EversonâÄôs primary motivation was how he felt after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. âÄúAfter 9/11, I saw a need for our country to come together, and I knew it was going to need some people who were daring and willing to help out the country,âÄù he said. âÄúI felt like I was a good person to help out in that category.âÄù Still, he knew deployment was a possibility, and he didnâÄôt shy away from his commitment. âÄúI knew going over there that it was going to be a life changing experience,âÄù Everson said. âÄúI wasnâÄôt sure if I was scared of the situation or excited.âÄù Robinson, who was a captain in the U.S. Army from 1969-72 and served with the first Cavalry Division in Vietnam from âÄô71-72, said itâÄôs impossible for those who have not experienced it to comprehend what a soldier goes through during a tour of duty. WhatâÄôs easy to comprehend, however, is the impact it has on his or her life. âÄúTheyâÄôre unbelievably more responsible,âÄù he said. âÄúThey understand the bigger picture. They understand that life isnâÄôt just about going out and drinking on Friday night. They realize there is a consequence to their actions, that their actions can affect other people. When youâÄôre in a combat zone, thatâÄôs a very critical thing to understand. Your situation, your life is very dependent on other people so you better do what youâÄôre supposed to do.âÄù ItâÄôs made Everson and junior Gordon Bierschenk , who recently returned from his own tour in Iraq, much better teammates, Robinson said. In hindsight, Everson considers it one of the best experiences of his life, one that has taught him countless lessons and helped him to mature. He said he feels a greater sense of purpose in school and wrestling, and prioritizes his life a bit differently. âÄúComing back, you realize whatâÄôs important to you âÄì your family, your friends, everything around you is so much more important.âÄù âÄúI think it has a profound effect on their life,âÄù Robinson said of college students that are deployed. âÄúWhen they come back theyâÄôre not the same. I donâÄôt think the general student populousâĦ[can] comprehend what theyâÄôre going through.âÄù