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Josh Van Schouwen learns something about blessings

By Julie Ooms

Josh Van Schouwen

Josh Van Schouwen

The second semester of Josh Van Schouwen’s sophomore year was normal. Classes began and went as usual for three weeks. But on Tuesday, February 4, 2003, Van Schouwen got a phone call that changed his life. His unit in the Army Reserve was being called overseas. He was to report to Sioux Falls that Friday. With three days to get ready, he had little time to think about what he was about to do.

When he signed up for an eight-year commitment in the Reserves at seventeen, Van Schouwen knew it was likely he’d get called to serve—but not as soon or as suddenly as he was. “My unit was one of the first called out. I was one of the first Dordt students to get deployed while still in school,” he says. “Dordt didn’t even have a policy for my situation when I got called up. I think they ended up having to treat it like a medical emergency,” he says with a chuckle. On March 23, 2003, a month and a half after Van Schouwen received that phone call, the 323rd Chemical Company unit was deployed, Van Schouwen among them. He returned 367 days later, on March 24, 2004. “It was a leap year,” he again chuckled.

Asked how his experience in Iraq has affected him as he continues his education, Van Schouwen was thoughtful. “I’m really not sure what I want to do after I graduate yet,” he confides, eyebrows drawing together. Although he would have graduated in 2005, he now expects to graduate in May of 2007. His computer science major comes from a computer hobby he had in high school. He added a business major after coming back from the service. “A lot of my credits got waived. I didn’t have to take any HPER classes, and I completed my cross-cultural requirement after I did an interview about my army experience, so I had room to add another major,” he explains. “I enjoyed the business classes I had been taking, and decided that, since I had room, a business major would be a good thing to add.”

Though Van Schouwen is unsure what vocation he’ll pursue after college, and though he’s fairly certain he’ll be deployed again in the not-so-distant future, his experience in Iraq has motivated him to put his education in the forefront of his mind. “I’ve really realized the value of school,” he says, gesturing emphatically. “I definitely try a lot harder now.” He says his stint in the army has matured him—“If I can say that without sounding arrogant,” he adds with another laugh—and that he values the education he’s getting at Dordt a lot more.

Van Schouwen says he realized, after returning from Iraq, just how much he had been blessed with—opportunities that others don’t have. “You get a completely different twist on things,” he explains. “I appreciate now how blessed I am to get the quality of education that I am here at Dordt. I saw a lot of people who have never gotten and won’t get that kind of opportunity."

As for his stint in the army itself, Van Schouwen says with a chuckle, “I heard someone describe it like, ‘It was a million dollar experience I wouldn’t pay a nickel for.’” But was it worth it? “It was definitely beneficial,” he says emphatically. “I’ve come to realize things I have that I wasn’t really aware of before.” And in whatever vocation he chooses, and whether or not he returns to Iraq, Van Schouwen is certain he’ll never lose that awareness.