By Army Sgt. Victor Ayala
210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
LARAMIE, Wyo., July 16, 2015 – Some join the military out of a lifelong call to serve their country. Others join out of a long family tradition of service. Some are drawn by the chance to make a better life or see the world. For Maggie Walstrom, the decision came abruptly.
"I'd been talking to a friend in high school who had just gotten back from basic combat training," said Walstrom, a private in the Army Reserve's 353rd Transportation Company and an ROTC cadet at the Minnesota State University at Mankato. "At that time, I didn't know what I was going to do with my life. So, I was in the gym one day at school and said to myself, 'I'm joining the Reserve when I turn 17.'"
Walstrom, a Buffalo, Minnesota, native, recalled telling her parents about the decision. "I told my mom, and she thought I was nuts," she said. "My whole family thought I was crazy."
The rest happened quickly. On her 17th birthday, Walstrom signed her enlistment contract and went off to basic combat training in April 2012. In her relatively brief time with the 353rd, she's ascended from an enlisted automated logistics specialist to an acting platoon leader.
Her choice to become an officer was as serendipitous as her choice to enlist. Her unit was hosting a family readiness group fundraiser in which key positions in the unit were auctioned off for a day. Walstrom won the position of company commander. It was all in good fun, she said, but she felt compelled by the notion of leading and commanding soldiers.
"It was only for about eight or nine hours," she said. "But it opened my eyes to some of what an officer does, and it really interested me." Walstrom said her leaders at the 353rd have been trusting her with more and more responsibility, designating her 1st Platoon leader and assigning her more leadership-based tasks. On July 11, during the 353rd's weeklong convoy mission from Buffalo, Minnesota, to Camp Roberts, California, Walstrom took charge of the company formation and held a promotion ceremony for a junior enlisted soldier.
Following in Footsteps
"This has been a really rewarding and positive experience," she said. "Some of the soldiers are starting to treat me with more respect, too." Walstrom's recent achievements extend beyond her military career. Walstrom said she's studying law enforcement at MSU Mankato, in the hopes of becoming a law enforcement officer like her late uncle, Rudy Betlach. Raised solely by her mother, she added, she looked to Betlach as a father figure.
"He was my idol -- my hero," Walstrom said of her uncle, who was a police officer in Anoka, Minnesota. "I looked up to him. I've decided to follow in his footsteps."
In high school, she said, she thought college would be too expensive for a child growing up in a single-parent household to even consider. However, since beginning classes, she's been hired onto the North Mankato Police Reserves and the River Halls Mall Security Force in Mankato. She was also recently awarded a $25,000 scholarship from MSU Mankato, which in addition to her ROTC stipend, is making college education a reality.
When she considers the moment she'll become a commissioned officer, she said, her first thoughts are of her fellow troops and the bonds she's forged in the 353rd. "I've got roots here in the unit," she said. "I want to stay in transportation. I want to stay with the trucks. I love being on convoys, so I hope to stay in this unit."