He may not have known it at the time, but Olean-born LTC Jeff Dahlgren was about to trade his signature Western New York accent in for a Southern drawl when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1989. The first move south for the Frewsburg High School graduate was to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

“I did basic training there for a few months, then I went to Fort Eustis, Virginia, for advanced initial training to work on helicopters,” Dahlgren, a 44-year-old instructor with the Army Joint Support Team, said. He spent approximately 34 weeks at Fort Eustis, then received his first duty station assignment: Delta Troop 3-6 Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas.

[[Photo courtesy of LTC Jeff Dahlgren.]]
[Photo courtesy of LTC Jeff Dahlgren.]
“Initially off the start, and pretty much ever since, you can see I’ve been stationed down South,” he said. Dahlgren used his training to work as a technician on helicopters from 1989 until he transitioned out of the Army in 1992.

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He went on to study at Jamestown Community College, transferring to St. Bonaventure University after earning his associate’s.

“I was born in Olean and my mother’s family is from the Ischua area, so I did want to be somewhat close,” Dahlgren said. “Bona’s was very appealing, and when I got the scholarship at Bona’s for ROTC, that was a no brainer.”

In the Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Course (ROTC) at St. Bonaventure, Dahlgren continued establishing his militaristic roots while obtaining a degree. Upon graduation from St. Bonaventure in 1996 with his B.A. in history and a minor in classics, Dahlgren was unsure what career choice to make.

“I wasn’t really sure if I was going to go into the military at the time,” he admitted. “I was thinking about teaching.”

He opted for the former instead of the latter, enrolling in flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in October of 1996.

Dahlgren spent time in Katterbach, Germany, after being assigned to 1-1 Attack Battalion as a platoon leader.

“Aviation in itself is very dangerous: you’ve got thousands of pieces of parts on a helicopter that can come apart any given time, so that’s hell,” he said.

In 2003, he was deployed to Kuwait.

“At this point, we’d given Saddam the ultimatum,” Dahlgren said. “Finally, President Bush gave us the ‘go ahead’ and we went into combat. So I led my company into combat operations.”

While on deployment, Dahlgren said there had been times shots had been fired at his aircraft.

“I’ve never gotten to a point where I’ve been fearful for my life because of the aircraft coming apart or not working correctly,” he said. “Obviously, it’s an attack aircraft, so being shot at… there’s a little concern there. I really haven’t felt too much in peril… not too many times.”

In 2004, Dahlgren returned home for the first time after being overseas.

“It took me a little while to figure out how to drive again, and, you know, try to follow the law,” he said, “Where I wasn’t buzzing through the intersection so I wouldn’t get captured or caught there in a situation where the enemy could put me in an ambush and shoot me.”

He mentioned seeing trash on the side of the road while at home and trying to eliminate from his mind that it could be a disguised explosive device.

“It took a couple days for me to adjust to not having a weapon; I always had a rifle with me, I always had a pistol with me; you always know where your firearms are,” he said. “I had to pinch myself every once in a while to remember, ‘Oh, that’s right, I don’t have a weapon on me.’”

In 2004, Dahlgren accepted the position of assistant professor of military science at St. Bonaventure, and also earned his master’s degree in business.

“That’s been probably the most rewarding assignment I’ve had in the Army,” he said. “The reason I say that is because I could see the change. The students become quality officers.

“That fundamental change in their personal being and character… it’s incredible.”

In 2006, Dahlgren received a reassignment to Kuwait, ending his tenure at St. Bonaventure.

Through each move and each deployment, Dahlgren had his wife Paula to look forward to coming home to, with the addition of their son, Alexander, in 2005.

[[Photo courtesy of LTC Jeff Dahlgren.]]
[Photo courtesy of LTC Jeff Dahlgren.]
“She’s been a trooper,” he said. As the commander’s wife, Paula would help other spouses through the tough times they faced while their loved ones were deployed. “For her, it was trying to help out where she could.”

With different assignments and deployments, Dahlgren has spent more years without his wife than with her over the past decade. “But,” he says, “she’s done well with it.”

Dahlgren returned from a deployment in Afghanistan in November 2011 after his wife’s diagnosis of acromegaly, which resulted in a tumor at the base of her pituitary gland. Paula underwent a procedure to remove the tumor, but not all the tissue could be removed.

“But she has a very positive attitude and we keep pushing forward,” he said.

Now Dahlgren has been selected for command at the battalion level and will return to Fort Rucker this summer.

“The family is coming along,” he said. “We have figured out that time is one thing we can never replace. You don’t get enough of it and we’ve suffered through enough separation.”

Though there have been years of separation and dangerous situations during his deployments, Dahlgren’s commitment to the United States of America still doesn’t waver.

“I will fight to the last breath,” he said in his Southern drawl, “to the last drop of blood I have to provide that security and stability for my family and friends.”

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