Kristian Gaasland, a Hibbing native, has had three knee surgeries and "all kinds of other issues" with his body. "Too much jumping out of airplanes, and being a machine gunner in Iraq, bouncing around in the top of a Humvee," he says. He joined the Army to get out of Hibbing and because he likes the outdoors.
He's in the water quality program at Vermilion Community College in Ely and he wants to work in a wastewater treatment plan when he completes his coursework in a year, and gets a license.
There's something you don't hear a lot of kids say: "When I grow up I want to work in a water treatment plant."
"I came about it in a roundabout way. Because of Iraq, I don't like being around people as much as I used to so this gives me a route where I'm still doing something important but something where I won't have to deal with a large group of people or sitting in a cubicle farm all day typing on a computer," he told me on Wednesday. He went to the University of Minnesota Duluth but didn't like it because of class sizes. At Vermilion, he says, there are 10 people in his class.
How did he come up with his career path? On a lark, he decided to take a tour of some water treatment plants, "and every time I went there I noticed all the employees were older and getting ready to retire." It's an interesting fit in a bad economy, he says.
"I like the process of it because it's a little bit hands on compared to most jobs," he said. For example, someone's got to keep the bugs and protozoa that eats the waste alive and happy. "If you can handle the smell, it's not too bad," he says.
"They're still hiring at a decent rate," he says when I asked him about his economic outlook. Vermilion's job placement rate in the business is 98%. "Basically, if you want a job, you can have it." He figures Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan will lead to more plants being built and older ones replaced.
Not that the economic downturn hasn't stung. "My retirement fund I've been working since I was 18 has taken quite a hammering. There's recessions every once in awhile and you just have to go with the flow."
Which is his plan.
This guy is a hero. Not only because of his military service, but for the simple fact that he is focused on a simple service - clean water.
While almost all of us contribute to the world by what we do, it is great to have something tangible and at the end of the day to able say, "I did this"