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From Fighter to Farmer: Rising to the challenge

In 2002, Chase Crawford leased 40 acres, bought a combine for $1,200, scraped together additional equipment, and decided to try his hand at farming. The recent high school graduate had farming in his blood – his grandparents were farmers – but a skip in farming generations meant that Crawford had to start almost from scratch.  

“It was a fun challenge,” he says, adding that he did have the opportunity to lease land from his grandparents.

At 19 years old, Crawford had no idea of the full challenge he was up against. He would build the farm up from 40 acres not once but twice; the second time following a tour in Iraq. He witnessed a comrade lose both of his legs when an explosively formed projectile (EFP) ripped through their Humvee. Crawford would have a hard time transitioning back to civilian life, suffering from PTSD like many of his friends, one of whom committed suicide last year. 

If you ask him if he’d do it all over again, knowing the difficulties and the loss of limbs and life, he’ll say yes. “In a second. It was important,” says Crawford. “Maybe not in the grand scheme of things, as we were little cogs in a huge machine, but it was important.

“With experiences like that, you learn stuff about yourself that you can’t learn any other way,” he adds. “Not having that would be a detriment to myself. I wouldn’t be the same without it.”

a member of the national guard

By October 2003, five of Crawford’s high school friends had joined the local National Guard unit. This, along with the 9/11 attacks, inspired Crawford to join.

“I felt I should join because I was around and able to,” says the Sherburn, Minnesota, native. “My buddies were going, so I didn’t want to be left behind.”

For the next two years, Crawford went through training with the National Guard while continuing to grow the farm. In June 2005, Crawford had just finished planting his 400 acres when his unit was given the order. They were being deployed to Iraq, and training would start in October.

“That was a bit of a challenge to try to figure out how to get harvest wrapped up before October,” he says.

Crawford did his best to start on harvest early, but 2005 was a wet year. On October 12, he boarded the bus for Camp Shelby with 150 acres of corn left in the field. 

Thankfully, as so often happens in rural areas, his neighbors stepped up, harvested his crop, and took it to the elevator. 

Life in Iraq

After six months of mobilization training in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Crawford’s unit left for Iraq. The artillery unit was trained for full-spectrum combat operations, so they could handle a variety of assignments. This training was critical, as Crawford’s platoon got switched from base defense to route clearance in the middle of deployment.

“For the first 10 months, we were on base defense,” says Crawford. “Then, weeks before we were supposed to come home, our deployment was extended for four more months.”

In 2007, the military had a troop surge into Baghdad to fight the growing insurgency. Crawford was stationed at a small base, convoy support center (CSC) Scania, located on the main supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad. “There we were on the supply route and the military wants to get as many troops into Baghdad as it can. It didn’t make sense to send us back,” Crawford explains. 

To try to stop that supply line coming into Baghdad, the insurgency focused a lot of attention on CSC Scania. It was about this time when Crawford was assigned to route clearance. “At that point, one of our trucks was getting hit every couple of nights,” he recalls. In addition to increasing the heat, the insurgency had also developed better tactics, switching from improvised explosive devices to EFPs. “These were manufactured weapons, and the armor on our Humvees was no match,” says Crawford.

One night in April 2005, Crawford was out on a patrol when his Humvee was hit by an EFP. “The slug hit the driver’s side of the Humvee and came in through the bottom of the door,” says Crawford, who was sitting in the passenger seat that night. “It took off both of my driver’s legs and went into the transmission that sat between us, belling out the metal. It would have cut me in half, but I think what saved me is that it went through his legs.”

Despite concussions and injuries of their own, Crawford and his crew sprang into action, putting tourniquets on the driver’s legs. “He lost both of his legs, but we saved him,” he says.

Three months later, Crawford had just arrived back in the U.S. and was able to see Horse, the nickname of the driver, for the first time. “There he was, sitting in his wheelchair,” says Crawford. “His mother came up and hugged me. She said, ‘You’re the reason my son is alive.’

“It was a different experience coming home.”

coming home

Scary. After 16 months in Iraq, that’s the word Crawford uses to describe what it was like to come back. “It was scary to come home, because I didn’t know what to expect,” he says, adding that he didn’t sleep much at first. “I slept on the couch because that’s where I was most comfortable.”

Just a few weeks after he was home, Crawford rekindled a high school romance with Betsy Brolsma, who would become Betsy Crawford in 2010.

“It was really hard,” she says about his adjustment back into civilian life. “He was really uncomfortable around large crowds. He’d go back to being in a large crowd in Iraq and what he had to do. It was scary.”

With the help of Betsy and the friends he served with, Crawford says he learned how to live with PTSD. “You deal with it, and it gets a little easier all the time. But it’s always there in a way.”

Betsy adds, “He’s doing amazing today, so much better than the first year or two after he got back.”

At that time, Crawford was also figuring out the next step for his career. He went back to school to complete his college degree, and he started working as a precision ag tech for a data management company. In 2010, he was ready to get back into farming. 

“I rented the 40-acre field I started with the first time and started over,” he says.

Today, Crawford farms 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans. He’s a one-man team for the most part, although he gets help from Betsy’s father, who is also a farmer.  

As the farm has grown, so has Chase and Betsy’s family. Their son, Jack, is 6, daughter, Finch, is 4, and son, Rip, is 2.

“Jack will definitely be a farmer. He’s all about the tractors,” says Betsy, adding that Crawford is a great dad.

giving back

For the past eleven years, Crawford has served as the commander of the Sherburn post of the American Legion. After leaving the Guard in 2011, he felt it was important to continue serving the country in this capacity. “There isn’t as much of an interest in veteran’s clubs anymore, but I think they are important to keep around,” he says. 

This role includes speaking at Veterans and Memorial Day programs for small towns as well as cooking meals at the post. 

For nine years, Crawford served on the township board in different capacities.

Two years ago, he opened a truck wash that employs 27 people.

“I think the reason that I do all of these things is because I feel almost indebted to the neighbors for helping me out when they have – and they have a lot,” he says. 

While Crawford may not admit it, Betsy says he works too hard. “I have to make him take time off,” she says. 

“Farming is just in his blood,” she adds. “It’s the way of life around here, and we love it.”

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