A decorated Air Force pilot with more than 1,000 hours of flying in combat returned to his alma mater on Monday, Nov. 11 to share a special Veterans Day message with high school students, veterans and members of the community.
Major Joshua Nelson of Otsego, a 2000 graduate of Monticello High School, was the guest speaker at the 2019 Veterans Day Community Celebration, held in the Monticello High School field house.
Nelson, the chief of standards and evaluation for the 934th Operations Group and Airlift Wing of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport-based Air Force Reserve Command, told students that even though he has had a very successful military career, he had no idea what he was going to do with his life prior to graduating from Monticello High School.
Today, he is responsible for the oversight of 250 aircrew personnel and conducts flight evaluations for 40 pilots.
“But I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school,” Nelson said.
Nelson was told by his father that his family couldn’t afford to send him to college. His father had served in the Air National Guard and noted that if Nelson followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Air force, there was a program that would help fund his future education.
“In life there is not just one path written for you,” Nelson told the Veterans Day audience. “There are multiple paths.”
Nelson chose the path that led him to the Air Force- a decision that has shaped his life from the moment he chose his path.
“I have enjoyed my career in the Air Force,” Nelson said. “It’s been about doing something bigger than myself.”
Nelson enlisted in the Air Force Reserves in March of 2000. He went on to earn a B.A. degree from St. Cloud State University and was then commissioned as a second lieutenant from officer training school in 2006. He took specialized pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas and C-130E training at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. Upon graduation in 2008, he spent his career flying the C-130H while stationed at the 934th Airlift Wing.
Nelson said he has been deployed five times and served as the assistant director of operations, managing over 640 specific missions that the 934th Airlift Wing performed.
“The saddest part of my job was carrying 16 caskets home,” Nelson said. “Sixteen. That’s a number I will never forget.”
Nelson noted that he hasn’t made a career out of serving in the Air Force because of the fame, or the bravado.
“I do it because it’s something I believe in,” he said.
He is also proud to serve in the Air Force.
Along the way, Nelson has faced many challenges in his life.
“But I always keep my head down, keep moving forward, and I don’t quit,” he said. “I don’t throw in the towel.”
Through is career there has been one thing that has always stood out to Nelson, he said.
“What if I had thrown in the towel? What if I had quit? How could I look myself in the mirror if I knew I wouldn’t achieve my long-term goals,” Nelson said.
In March, Nelson will have served with the Air Force for 20 years.
He had been enlisted just a year when he faced his defining moment.
“That was Sept. 11, 2001,” he said.
It was through the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon and the words of former President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks that made Nelson realize the importance of serving one’s country.
“Freedom must be defended at any cost,” Nelson recalled Bush saying.
“That’s why we do this. That is why we serve. This is why we do what we do,” Nelson said.
The 2019 Veterans Day Community Celebration opened with words from 2019 American Legion Girls State representative Cat Terres and 2019 American Legion Boys State representatives Riley Banyai and Riley Erb introducing the Color Guard and leading the gathered crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Monticello High School A’Capella Choir then wowed the crowd with its rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.
Five MHS seniors were then recognized for enlisting in the Armed Services: Marlana Brander, Army National Guard; Jonathan Jungels, Army National Guard; Vince Knutson, Army National Guard; Essie McCleish, U.S. Army; and Dylan Osman, The United States Marines. MHS student Riley Osterbauer was then recognized for her commitment to helping raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
The Monticello High School Wind Ensemble played Armed Forces- Pride of America, which featured the anthems of each branch of the U.S. military. As each song played, members of the branches attending the ceremony stood at attention and were applauded by the crowd. The Wind ensemble then played “The Missing Man.”
A slide show was then shared featuring pictures of Monticello natives who served in the military. The slide show was followed by the retirement of colors and the playing of Taps.
Reach Jeff Hage at email@example.com