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War is not all fighting, it’s about helping others too

SCC Elementary art teacher Jason Rohde takes a few moments from his busy day to talk about his tours in Kosovo and Iraq and what being a veteran means to him. (Photo by Sarah Young)

Art teacher Jason Rohde doesn’t want to be put on a pedestal. Nor does he want anyone to give him superhero status.

What he wants is for kids to realize that anyone can be a veteran, that it’s not a certain type of

person. He wants kids to realize war is not like what they see in the movies or video games. He fears kids have a skewed perception of what a soldier is.

“There’s no reset button, like in a video game,” Rohde said. “And it’s not just about fighting. I

was in construction. It’s also about helping countries and other people in different countries.”

Rohde grew up in White Bear Lake, Minn., and graduated from St. Thomas Academy in St. Paul,

an all boys, Catholic, military-style school.

Rohde said he had been enrolled at North Dakota State University in Fargo for one year before

he enlisted in the Army National Guard there in 1999.

He was a member of the North Dakota 142nd Engineer Battalion and served as a carpenter and electrician during two tours: one in Kosovo for nine months and another in Iraq for 16 months.

He was honorably discharged when his contract was up and had reached the rank of sergeant.

According to Rohde, he enlisted because he wanted to serve his country and see parts of the

world he normally wouldn’t get to.

“I felt like it was something I needed to do,” Rohde said.

The hardest part for him was being away from his family and having his future on stand-still, he


His first tour in Kosovo was from 2000-2001. He married wife Emily in 2002 and was deployed

for a second time, this time to Iraq, in 2003.

“When you get activated, you have no choice but to go,” Rohde said. “I think it was harder on

my family than it was on me. News here is two or three days late. I knew I was fine, but they’d

see stuff on TV.”

Rohde said he graduated with a bachelor of science in art education from Minnesota State

University-Mankato, where he had transferred, and was deployed to Iraq two or three weeks


It was pretty tough on his wife, he said, because they had plans to move to the East Coast.

She moved there without him, but came back to the Midwest.

Rohde said he was more nervous before his first tour in Kosovo, because he didn’t know what to

expect. In Iraq there was more potential for danger, he said, but he knew more what to expect the second time around.

While in Iraq, Rohde was stationed mostly in the city of Balad and at the international airport and Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

He built houses for the canine units, guard towers at the prison, houses, reinforced tents and

cement structures, worked on fans for schools and fire departments and helped build the

foundation for a bridge across a river that could have been made into a temporary bridge if


He and others also took bombs and explosives they found and destroyed them before they could go off and hurt innocent people.

When he returned home, Rohde taught at two Minnesota schools before a taking a job as an

elementary art teacher at SCC Elementary. He is in his sixth year of teaching there, and has

coached middle and high school cross country for four years.

Rohde said he always loved all the different mediums of art growing up and also enjoyed

teaching kids at a summer camp. He felt an art teacher was the perfect blend of both.

“I love teaching kids how to use creativity,” Rohde said. “At this age they’re still so free- spirited.”

Rohde lives with his wife, and three daughters (Claire, Ella and Annie) on a farm near

Woodville. He used to live in Hammond, where he built a Dr. Seuss-themed tree house for his


He also enjoys building structures like tree houses, crow’s nests and chicken coops, running in

races with his wife and doing pottery and mosaics.

He hopes to turn a shed on his property into a pottery studio for teaching classes.

While he is not currently active in the American Legion or any veterans’ organizations, he would

like to be someday, but said it’s hard right now with coaching and having a young family.

Rohde said he has been approached by kids looking for advice about enlisting.

“I told them it’s a good opportunity if it’s what you want,” Rohde said. “It’s not for everyone and

it’s hard work. There’s a lot of glory attached, but there’s a lot you don’t see.”

He said he also tells his students that going to war changes a person because he or she

experiences the world in a different light.

Rohde wants people to know that veterans appreciate how schools honor them, but he thinks

families of veterans deserve special recognition too because they go through a lot.

He also feels that while soldiers are not superheroes, they deserve more recognition than the

glorified entertainment industry.

“American soldiers should be given priority over athletes,” Rohde said. “That’s entertainment,

not helping this country to be better or safe.”

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in February 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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