After his grandfather served in World War II and his father and two uncles served in the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Essing knew he had to keep his family’s legacy in the service of their country.
But when 9/11 struck, the former Twin Lakes mortgage lender knew he too had to up the ante.
“I was inspired by my family’s service to serve in a wider capacity”, Essing said. “I have always tried to be ready for the opportunities that present themselves. Part of being in the National Guard (of the army) meant being ready to take sides ”.
After 32 years of service in his country, Essing retired on June 30. Since 1988 he has served in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Mexico and with the United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs.
After working in the 1st Battalion of the 194th Field Artillery and the 2nd Battalion of the 34th Infantry Brigade Combat Brigade, Essing was first deployed in 2007 on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, a remnant of the Eastern Europe of the Soviet Union which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the support of the United States under the administration of President George W. Bush.
There, he served as an executive officer and worked with the Kosovar equivalent of FEMA, the EPA and National Guard units to test for radiation and clean up the remains of 100 abandoned state-owned factories left by the USSR decades after his. collapse.
“We were trying to help them stabilize all the remnants of the Soviet-era factory”, Essing said. “It was very rewarding to be able to work with them.”
As an emergency management consultant for a team of 24 in Kosovo, Essing has worked with NATO stakeholders over seven of the past 11 years to define goals and make plans to achieve them.
Kosovo, a former part of Yugoslavia, was left with defunct factories that produced items such as textiles and car batteries, which left behind toxic and dangerous materials. Slowly, Kosovo sold factories to private civilian companies as they were being cleaned up.
Ever since President Woodrow Wilson advocated for Albanian independence more than 100 years ago (the vast majority of Kosovo are ethnically Albanian), Essing has said that Kosovo has had great appreciation for Americans, noting that what he said is still a strong position of the United States on the world stage.
“They really looked to the United States for strong leadership to work side by side,” Essing said: a learning moment for him abroad.
Essing worked with US Northern Command in Colorado to coordinate US responses to disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes. His experience there also included two years in Mexico City, where he developed and planned exercises to strengthen the capabilities of the Mexican army.
Later, in 2010, in the height of the war in Afghanistan, Essing returned to the service, with two weeks’ notice, to prepare for departure for the Middle East.
“I’m ready, let’s go”, He said.
During Essing’s year in Afghanistan, he served as a human resources officer for 3,200 soldiers in the 2nd Battalion of the Infantry Brigade’s 34th Combat Team. There, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service.
Although it was a different line of work, it was something Essing was eager to roll up his sleeves to jump into.
As if that weren’t enough variety, Essing was one of the first Iowans chosen to go to the Joint and Combined War Fighting School, where he became a certified Joint Qualified Officer.
“I was very lucky to do many things”, He said. “Part of being in the National Guard meant being ready to take sides.”
Another thing he has learned in 32 years is that the Iowans are prepared for the unexpected in a way that is unlike many others.
“The Iowan are used to tornadoes and harsh conditions,” Essing said. “When the alarm goes off, we are always ready to go out. … Let’s take a look outside and see how we can help others ”.
In his retirement, the 52-year-old hopes to put his decades of experience and instinct to work for FEMA, helping Americans endure natural disasters.