ANNVILLE, Pa., — Nearly 100 years ago, young American men were leaving farms across America, joining every branch of the military to fight in World War I. One-third of Americans lived on a farm during the first decades of the 20th century, so nearly every squad of soldiers had farmers in it.
Today, less than two out of every 100 Americans live on a farm, but one of those Americans with a small family farm is headed for his fifth deployment. Pennsylvania Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Kwiecien, a flight medic with nearly 20 years of service, will soon be leaving for Southwest Asia. He is deploying with Detachment 1, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment, where he will serve as noncommissioned officer in charge of the unit.
On 4.5 acres in central Pennsylvania, Kwiecien and his family raise chickens, ducks and guinea hens. He is considering adding goats and bees to his existing flock of nearly 50 birds, but those plans are on hold until after he returns. Raising poultry for eggs and for the table is one of several hobbies Kwiecien has, including making medical apparel, rock climbing and playing the drums.
Kwiecien joined the Army in 1996, serving on active duty for six years. He joined the Army National Guard in 2003. In 19 years of service he has deployed to Bosnia, Saudi Arabia and twice to Iraq, most recently with the 56th Stryker Brigade in 2009. He has served on active duty with the National Guard since returning from deployment in 2010.
In a phone interview while he was on a weekend pass, Kwiecien talked about his view of life before going on another deployment.
Persistence Pays Off
He said he was a product of "years of failure," adding, "I am very persistent. I think that persistence has paid off, because after 19 years and many failures I feel like I've learned a lot, and like Thomas Edison who figured all the ways not to make a light bulb, I move on and stick with the things that work," Kwiecien said. "It's better to try and fail than to never give your dream a shot."
As an example, he cited his experience with a weekend-long evaluation for an Army National Guard Special Forces unit in Maryland. He said he made it through the first weekend and was told he could come back for the second round of evaluations, but before he could return he was promoted. By taking the promotion, he took himself out of the program. Although he did not make it into the Special Forces, he said he does not regret the attempt.
In his free time, Kwiecien said he likes to find serenity in nature. "My big plan after deployment is to go to Zion National Park in Utah with my family," he said. "Getting away from civilization and being one with nature. Rock climbing and hiking are things I really look forward to on visits to national parks."
Philosophies for Life
"You can have the best idea, but execution makes a good idea real," Kwiecien said. "A good plan put into motion today and refined as needed is better than a great plan that hasn't been started. Hesitation and indecision kill good plans and good ideas."
There will always be drama, he said. "It's nothing new and it's never going away. I tell my soldiers, 'Keep your private life private and your professional life professional and I won't need to be involved in your private life.'"
Kwiecien said the best advice he ever received came from his father. "My dad told me when I was graduating from high school and we were looking at colleges that people should always have a skill in addition to higher education," he said. So, in addition to growing his farm, Kwiecien plans to start a business making medical clothing for first responders when he returns from his deployment.