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Army Lt. Colonel taught Afghan troops

Army Lt. Colonel Lars Jacobsserved Afghanistan.

Army Lt. Colonel Lars Jacobson served in Afghanistan.

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Name: Lars Jacobson

Residence: Sycamore

Age: 46

Service time: 1987-present

Location: Germany, Afghanistan, U.S.

Updated: December 1, 2011 8:20AM

In early 2008, Lt. Col. Lars Jacobson was sitting at his desk at Wheaton College — where he works as an ROTC instructor — when he received an email that would change his life.

“I’m in the National Guard, so I knew it was coming,” said Jacobson, a 46-year-old Sycamore resident. “The email stated that I was to deploy to Afghanistan in eight months.”

How did he feel?

“I wasn’t ecstatic about it, but I wasn’t disappointed either,” he said. “I’d been in the Army for more than 20 years at that point, and I wanted to deploy; I wanted to do my part and make a contribution.”

Into the Middle East

Lars spent the next several months training for his mission: to mentor at brigadier general (senior member) of the Afghan military on effective wartime tactics. In the fall of 2008, he landed in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“They took us to base in an armored bus, and when we got there, we were given our quarters,” he said. “We lived in shipping containers that had been turned into shelters. I lived in a 20-foot container, which is pretty nice considering World War II troops lived in fox holes.”

Almost every day for the next year, Jacobson met with his mentee to teach him the ways of war. He always had an interpreter by his side; the general did not speak English. A team under Jacobson mentored subordinate soldiers.

“It was very rewarding when you would explain things and see the light bulb come on,” he said. “It was also challenging because the country is still living in the 1400s; their literacy rate is only about 18 percent, and we really had to teach the soldiers everything.”

“Everything” ranged from teaching Afghan soldiers how to tie their shoes (most had only worn sandals their entire lives) to teaching them how to operate manual transmissions (most had never been in a vehicle).

“We also had to be really careful not to force them to do things in the ‘American way,’” Jacobson said. “Our military does things on a very high level, and some of what we do just wouldn’t work for the Afghan Army. It was tough to figure out where the line was at times.”

A look back

Jacobson returned to the States in fall 2009, took a month off and then came to his job as an ROTC instructor. Looking back, he feels fortunate for the experience.

“I’m glad I went,” he said. “I wasn’t in a lot of hot conflict and haven’t suffered any trauma. It was also a good experience to see another culture at that level. People really don’t realize how good we have it here.”

Will he deploy again?

“Probably not,” Jacobson said. “I will probably retire from the National Guard in the next year or two, which is too soon for me to leave again. That said, I will stay at Wheaton College as an ROTC instructor.”

Jacobson said his time in the military was a positive part of his life and that he loves training new leaders in the academic setting.

“The military is an outstanding opportunity to serve your country and give back,” he said. “We train you to be a leader, and even if you don’t end up in the military for 20 years, you will use what you learn for the rest of your life.”

Troop Talk is a column profiling and honoring local veterans and active servicepersons. If you, or someone you know, would like to be profiled, please contact Katie Morell at

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