Military life proves rewarding after years of experience

Courtesy photo: Emily Maass

Courtesy photo: Emily Maass

Courtesy photo: Emily Maass

Frances Myers

A life in the military in a way was a hidden agenda for Emily Maass — one she did not discover until her second year of college.

Maass grew up in Ellsworth and was one of four children. Her father was originally a trucker and later became a farmer. Her mother was a housewife. Growing up, she was very involved in school and sports.

Maass’ father was drafted into the army during the Vietnam War, and her grandfather served in the Air Force during World War II.

But that’s not why Maass joined the armed forces. 

“It didn’t have anything to do with me going into the military, though,” Maass said. “I had thought about it a couple times during high school and had been approached by a few recruiters. They gave me the option to do active training during the summer, but I had softball. I was too busy, so I didn’t give it too much thought.”

Maass attended college for two years before she considered a career in the military. “All I knew was that I wanted to travel,” Maass said. “I didn’t know at all what I wanted to study. Then I realized that a career in the military would allow me to travel and pay for college. I loved physical challenges and working out, so it was perfect.”

Originally Maass only planned to go into the military for two years. However, the Army National Guard had other plans for her. “They told me I was going to serving for four years instead,” Maass said. “At first I thought, ‘Oh my god, four years?’ Now, 12 years, later here I am still serving. I love it.”

Maass first went overseas when she was sent to Korea to serve on active duty.

“It’s funny, because one out of five soldiers will do what they can to try to get out of Korea,” Maass said. “When you think about where you want to travel and serve, people often think about Germany, Hawaii and other places. Korea isn’t exactly what they think of as desirable.”

In the 14 months Maass spent in Korea, she had the opportunity to see sights and learn the language and the culture. She noted that the people in Korea dressed very similarly to Americans, and some of them even knew about America’s pop culture.

“One thing I noticed, as did other people, was it’s a small country, and the buildings kept getting higher,” Maass said. “They didn’t have any room to build more buildings, so instead of building out, they built up. The cab drivers were also really crazy when it came to getting around, too.”

After coming back to the United States, Maass was sent in August 2003 to serve for nine months in Afghanistan.

“It was really unnerving at first,” Maass said. “We flew in on a military plan during the early morning when it was still pitch black, so we had no idea what to expect.”

As soon as Maass’ unit landed, they were moved to a large tent set up for them, with cots lined up in rows so close together they all were touching.

“Once we got settled in, it was all right. It was a lot different from Korea, though,” she said. “When we were in Korea, we were able to go home every night where we stayed in a house, and it was a lot more relaxed. Here we were constantly in uniform, and we always had to carry our weapons with us.”

While Maass did not have much chance to interact with Afghan people, every Friday her unit had the opportunity to go to a bazaar. Here Afghans would be selling everything from pottery to jewelry to movies.

Maass returned from Afghanistan in May 2004. Since then she has received a degree in nursing from Mercy Medical College, which she attended while active in the National Guard and still stationed in the United States.

Maass has been working at Camp Dodge while on active duty for the Iowa Army National Guard. She plans to serve her 20 years of active duty and go into retirement after.

“I’m so glad I signed up and stayed in it,” Maass said. “It has given me so many opportunities I never would have had otherwise.”