Experiencing a lifetime before age 24

 Michael Hoberg went from a high school graduate to a twice-deployed soldier to a veteran all by age 23.

By Sam Petterson | For the Clarion

One day into Minnesota State Technical College in Wadena, Michael Hoberg knew higher education wasn’t the path for him because of the expectations he had going into college. He also was scared that he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Following his father, a veteran who served 33 years in the Navy and National Guard, Hoberg entered a recruiter’s office and joined the U.S. Army. This came as no surprise to his mother, Cindee, who was used to being part of a military family and found herself being Hoberg’s biggest cheerleader during his contract.

“I just want to do the military to help me grow up a little bit and mature as a person, and I was like I know I want to get out; I don’t want to do this forever,” Hoberg told recruiters.

Like most recruits, he was nervous for basic training. For Hoberg though, after the first couple days he began to have fun doing things such as rappelling, shooting guns and getting yelled at despite the challenges and hard times he also faced in training. Hoberg’s whole mentality changed throughout his training. Cindee said one of her favorite parts of Hoberg’s military career was basic training because he always had someone watching over him.

Up next: Fort Carson, Colorado.

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Hoberg not only worked to excel in his Army physical tests, he also worked to improve his skills on the shooting range. This training includes a large variety weapons, including very large grenade launchers. | Photo submitted by Michael Hoberg.

Hoberg had about a 291 for his PT score and also achieved high scores in other areas of his career in the Army. This led to Sergeant First Class Johnston asking him to be part of a scout platoon.

“It’s only the best of the best, that’s what he told me,” Hoberg said.

After four months at Fort Carson, Hoberg and his company were sent to California for certification to deploy.

Hoberg was on his first tour in Afghanistan as a infantryman private in a scout platoon three weeks after his Christmas leave.

Every day was eventful. The base included American soldiers, military of other nations, special forces and the Afghan military. Nine American casualties occurred in the nine months of deployment, and Hoberg said it was a good day if no one died. Many times those who died were members of the Taliban, and sometimes other allies at the base, but the days nobody died were few and far between.

This deployment was partially lightened by the love the locals had for the soldiers on their patrols. Hoberg talked of locals smiling and waving, children chasing the trucks to receive candy as well as locals pointing out hiding spots of Taliban soldiers.

At 20 years old, Hoberg had completed an entire deployment.

“I came back from my first deployment and I thought that I was a badass because I was 20 years old and just experienced something like no one else does,” Hoberg said. “You have more money than you could ever imagine in your pocket, so you go a little bit crazy.”   

An eight week post-deployment break was given to the soldiers. This time was filled with the majority of an Army company trying to decompress nine months of all that deployment brings in two months. The soldiers checked in every morning on base to make sure they were alive, but then had the rest of the time off. A lot of partying and drinking filled the extra time. Hoberg says his platoon racked up 26 DUIs in the two-month period.

“Some dudes kind of lose a bearing on reality because they go off the deep-end from the stuff they’ve done and the stuff they’ve seen,” Hoberg said. “And then they start abusing alcohol and drugs and stuff just to, for instance to get a good night’s sleep. You don’t sleep that well anymore.” 

Hoberg said that the Army provides more than enough options for soldiers who need and want help. Every solider is required to do a health survey after coming home from deployment. Like any other form of counseling, the soldier needs to want the help and needing help can wound the pride of some soldiers.

Most people just say it because it’s the polite thing to do, they don’t actually mean it. Which is, in my eyes, worse. I’d rather you not say anything about it so we can go on with our daily lives and just not talk about it.

Being around people who haven’t seen or done the things Hoberg had, such as seeing dead bodies and firing a gun at people, proved to be a difficult part of visits home for Christmas. Hoberg said he would look at people his age and feel like they didn’t know what reality was. His father could relate, but he found it hard to explain his experiences to others because they simply didn’t understand what occurred on deployments.

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Upon return from deployment, soldiers are greeted with a ceremony. Hoberg’s parents were fortunately able to celebrate Michael coming home the second time. | Photo submitted by Hoberg.

“Everyone obviously wants to ask you questions and stuff, and like ‘oh thank you for your service’ and stuff. It kind of feels like it’s a hollow thing,” Hoberg said. “Most people just say it because it’s the polite thing to do, they don’t actually mean it. Which is, in my eyes, worse. I’d rather you not say anything about it so we can go on with our daily lives and just not talk about it.” 

Back to Colorado. Then to Kentucky to instruct ROTC cadets in physical readiness training and land navigation. Back to Colorado. Then to Georgia for a Reconnaissance Surveillance Leadership Course. Then home for Christmas leave. Back to Colorado.

Hoberg was off to his second deployment and only one year older, now 21. 

Hoberg was now a sergeant, which meant he led a group of soldiers in the company. This deployment included the usual daily tasks of patrols, working out, providing security and hanging out. However, it had been much less eventful than the first deployment… until Aug. 1.

While in a truck headed to an Afghan dam simply to see what it was like, Hoberg and about 20 other soldiers traveled down a road that had unknowingly been taken over by the Taliban. Barriers along the road, such as barbed wire, couldn’t curb the soldiers’ curiosity. Once arriving in a town with scowl-faced locals, they decided the situation was possibly hazardous. It took them awhile to turn the large trucks around on the narrow, dirt road.

Suddenly, the lead truck’s guard shot up into the air. They had hit an IED, an improvised explosive device. The truck started on fire and enemy contact began. Hoberg watched all of this unfold from the second truck.

Hoberg’s group got out of their truck to help the soldiers out of the now unsafe first vehicle and made sure no one was seriously injured.

“They got us in a super vulnerable position because the last truck saw another IED behind us and we couldn’t go forward because the lead truck was blown up,” Hoberg said. “We were like fish in the water. Stuck.”

Piling into the remaining trucks, Hoberg and his fellow soldiers gave and received fire until the unit coming to help recovered from also hitting an IED.

A memorable explosive remover named Chaffee found IEDs with a bayonet attached to an old gun. He would simply pull IED’s out of the ground, which was crazy to the American soldiers. Hoberg relieved himself next to a truck since he had been in it for about 16 hours. Chaffee then pulled an IED out of the ground directly under where Hoberg’s feet were seconds ago.

Five days before leaving deployment and heading home, Hoberg and his team were relaxing in tents when two of Hoberg’s men went out on a mission. A message was relayed incorrectly, and Hoberg felt responsible for the supposed deaths of his men. The message was corrected quickly, and the men were actually alive, but Hoberg would have rather had something to him then to his men.

“The one night I didn’t go out with them, all hell raged and it was a bad situation,” Hoberg said. 

Hoberg came home and spent his last four months in the military at Fort Carson. Having more experience with deployment, Hoberg made sure to have fun and decompress, but was more tame than after his first deployment.

You really find out what kind of man you are when bullets start flying and you have to tell people what to do.

Hoberg retired from the Army on April 13. His long hair, pierced ears and unshaven face prove he is taking advantage of the simple pleasures of civilian living during his well-deserved summer off. Playing semi-pro football for the TC Rhinos and coaching lacrosse at Monticello High School occupy some of his time. When he’s not doing that, he’s doing whatever he wants such as watching movies, working out or simply hanging out with family at home. 

The brotherhood and camaraderie are the things Hoberg liked the most about the military, but he admitted the hardest part was missing big events back home. He believes the military truly helped him become a better person and a better leader.

“You really find out what kind of man you are when bullets start flying and you have to tell people what to do,” Hoberg said.

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Hoberg ended his contract at the same time as a couple other soldiers in his company. All three were given Army-style parting gifts as a sentimental token of gratitude. | Photo submitted by Hoberg.

“Michael joined the military when he turned 19 and now he is 23. He’s grown up, of course. He’s responsible and takes care of things when needed. He is now a man. It sounds like a silly thing to say, but it’s true. He has been a joy to be around, not always true about a high school student,” Cindee said of Hoberg’s journey in the military.

Hoberg is the type of man who has sacrificed big events in his life to serve two deployments in a four year contract, but won’t tell you he’s a veteran unless you ask or already know.

“I don’t know of very many that have done a three or four year contract and two deployments and received the rank that I have. I don’t really like to talk about it with people that I don’t know because I know they probably don’t really give a shit in general. But it’s just something you kind of have to be humble about I guess because no one asked me to do this, but the pride is still there,” Hoberg said about being an accomplished veteran at just 23.

This fall holds a new endeavor for Hoberg: going to college in hopes of becoming a teacher.