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255418

From Fighter to Farmer: Chris Hoerschelman’s Journey

After 12 years of service, Chris Hoerschelman returned home to farm.

In July 2000, Chris Hoerschelman traded his tractor for an M4 carbine and signed up to serve his country. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, he enlisted as an Airborne Infantryman to experience the world and meet new people.

Growing up, Hoerschelman worked with his dad and grandpa on the family’s century farm in rural Andrew, Iowa. He never imagined that after high school he would leave the farm for over a decade to pursue a career with the Army.  

“My plan was to farm full time after graduation, but my grandpa suggested that I join the Army and travel. He said, ‘Farming’s a hard life, and this farm will always be here. Go see the world for a few years and make sure that farming is what you really want to do,’ ” says Hoerschelman.

At the turn of the 21st century, the world was relatively peaceful. Little did he know that in just over a year, that would change drastically.

9/11

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His journey serving the U.S. started in Fort Benning, Georgia, where he completed basic training and airborne school.

“He was selected for the Honor Guard, so we moved to D.C., which was a pretty big transition for a farm boy from Iowa,” says Amanda Hoerschelman, Hoerschelman's girlfriend at the time and now his wife.

Just nine months after he arrived in D.C., Hoerschelman’s life and path in the Army was completely uprooted. On September 11, 2001, he was stationed just a few miles away from Washington D.C. during the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon.

“I’d never seen so much panic in people as I did that day,” says Hoerschelman. “We set up camp there and rotated between shifts of security and recovering things from the rubble.”

At a young age of 19, the tragedy was scary, eye-opening, and shocking, according to Hoerschelman. He basically lived at the Pentagon for a month working on either security or recovery efforts.

“9/11 lit a fire in him that motivated him to serve, so he reenlisted for the 3rd Infantry Division,” Amanda says. “We basically started counting down the days until he deployed.”

Service Overseas

After his time in D.C. ended, Hoerschelman volunteered for an assignment in the 3rd Infantry Division and was stationed in Ft. Stewart, Georgia, for four years.

In 2004, Hoerschelman proposed to his high-school sweetheart, Amanda, and planned their wedding for July 2005. Their plans were interrupted when Hoerschelman received orders to deploy to Iraq. The wedding was moved up to January 1, 2005, and he was deployed three weeks later for Operation Iraqi Freedom III. During the year-long deployment, he earned his Combat Infantryman’s Badge, awarded to those who personally fought on the ground overseas.

Hoerschelman’s unit was called to duty again for the Surge to Baghdad in 2007-2008, this time for 15 months. During that deployment, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor and the Bronze Star Medal for Service.

“Both bronze stars were for actions against the enemy forces in Baghdad in April 2008,” Hoerschelman says. “The awards bring some pretty mixed emotions because there were many soldiers who earned those same medals, but they didn’t get to come home.”

During his first deployment, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Iit was in his 2nd deployment that he was selected for promotion to Sergeant First Class (E7), an accomplishment not many can boast.

After returning from his second deployment, the Army moved the Hoerschelmans to Arkansas and then to Texas as he trained Army Reserves and Army National Guard soldiers before their deployments. During this assignment, he also completed his bachelor’s degree in business management.

Transitioning from Fighter to Farmer

In 2010, the Hoerschelmans welcomed their first daughter, Ava. About 16 months later, Autumn arrived. In 2012, Hoerschelman had a challenging decision in front of him. Years of combat had worn his body down. He had broken several bones, couldn’t hear out of one ear, and had several other long-term injuries.

“Once he was in the Army and went to Iraq, his plan was to then stay in the military for 20 to 25 years. It became more apparent that he couldn’t withstand it that long. It was a hard pill to swallow,” says Amanda.

Hoerschelman medically retired from the Army as a Sergeant First Class. Farming seemed like a daunting job prospect, but the Hoerschelmans were up for the challenge.  

The couple knew the transition back home would be tough. While Hoerschelman would help out on the family farm during leave, the two owned no equipment. To further complicate matters, 2013 marked record corn and bean prices, so nobody was looking to rent out their land, especially not to a beginning farmer.

Hoerschelman began working for two nearby farmers to learn about new farming practices. He bought his grandpa’s tractor and a planter and custom-planted corn and soybeans. The following year, he bought a second tractor, rented ground from the Iowa DNR through the Beginning Farmer Program, and rented his parents’ and Amanda’s grandparents’ land.

During the third year home, the couple bought Hoerschelman’s parents 135-acre farm, more row-crop machinery, put up a grain bin, and worked with the Jackson County Conservation Service to improve their land. They also welcomed a third daughter, Emma, to the family.

“You know, the transition out of the Army and into farming was tough, but I can look back now and see God’s hand in it all,” says Hoerschelman. “Our families as well as some of the other farmers in our community have been very supportive, offering to pull wagons and drive trucks during harvest, loan machinery, and just give me the opportunity to do custom work or rent ground.”

2017 update

“Farming the family farm has been a tremendous blessing to Chris,” says Amanda. “Many veterans come home and have difficulty finding fulfillment in life after the Army. Chris is fortunate. Farming allows him be outdoors, work with his hands, and contribute to the nation’s food supply. It also allows him to be a part of their local volunteer EMS and fire department, giving him an opportunity to use some of the skills he learned in the Army.”

The transition highlighted how much farming has changed in just over a decade. Hoerschelman had to learn about all of the new technological advances that are necessary tools for a growing operation. Precision farming and commodity marketing have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects so far.  

“I’ve got a lot to learn, but I love it,” says Hoerschelman. “Every day is different, and I’ve got a lot of things I’d like to improve or add to our operation, so I’m always reading and talking with other farmers to try to figure out how to make it all work.”

As 2017 marks the fifth year the Hoerschelmans moved home to Iowa, he is still making improvements to their machinery and land, and has added 30 stock cows to the farm. Although his grandfather passed away before Hoerschelman had the chance to come back home and farm, the couple was honored with the Century Farm award and continue that legacy. The Hoerschelmans just celebrated their 12th anniversary and are expecting baby girl Number 4 in May.

While a growing family and farm are certainly enough to keep him busy, Hoerschelman also makes time to continue serving his country as a volunteer first responder and firefighter for the Andrew Fire Department.

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