When Jared Kuyper joined the Army National Guard at age 17, he was a junior at Farmington High School. Back in 2000, he was just a kid looking to earn some money for college so he could go into law enforcement.
The world was a quieter place back then. The World Trade Center towers gleamed in the sunlight. Sept. 11 was just another day. No one really thought too much about Afghanistan or Iraq. But times, they do change.
Nine years later, Kuyper is still in college at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he is pursuing his degree in law enforcement. It seems his life is on track, but for that two-year blip when he was stationed in Iraq.
"Now I'm 25 years old and I feel like I'm 40 just because my life experiences are way different from other kids my age," he said.
Indeed. While he was in Iraq, Kuyper was a driver, a gunner, and truck commander while running in convoys daily.
"I feel like my life experiences are different than any other freshman or sophomore. I notice the immaturity of an 18-year-old kid.... Over there, we got in a few firefights. I saw a couple IEDs (roadside bombs) on the side of the road. That was a little more dangerous," he said.
Experience on display
Kuyper is one of five Farmington soldiers whose stories are part of the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute's traveling exhibit, "Warrior to Citizen: Stories of Minnesota's Most Recent Veterans." That exhibit will come to Farmington for five days starting Sunday.
The exhibit features the stories and artifacts of 30 service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. It is designed to help the public understand some of the thoughts, feelings and experiences today's veterans have encountered.
Interviews for the exhibit were conducted in November, with the exhibit opened at the Humphrey Institute last month. The questions were not tough, said Farmington veteran Bill Eccles, but they caused him to look back over the time he has been home and recognize some of the changes in his own life.
"(The interviewer) made me think back and recall friends I had met over there and things like that. One thing it made me think back on was how I watched my daughter grow up on the Internet. That was kind of different," Eccles said.
When Eccles left, along with Kuyper and veteran Matthew Price, who is also featured in the exhibit, Eccles's daughter was 3 years old. She was 5 when he returned.
"It was interesting watching her," he said. "My wife would put the webcam on her, and I would just watch her playing. She really didn't like to talk to the camera," he said. "I didn't feel left out.
"The hardest part was coming home to her, because she didn't know who I was. That summer, she continued to go to daycare.... I wasn't able to stay home with her because she didn't feel comfortable with basically, a stranger."
Whether they intended to or not, the local soldiers who interviewed became a part of Minnesota's history by sharing their stories. They do not necessarily look at it that way, though. All said it was an honor to be featured in the display.
Eccles was at the U of M exhibit opening, and is looking forward to it coming to his own community next week.
"I thought it was pretty neat that somebody was interested in knowing what my story was," Eccles said. "It's the first of its kind. That's what is really neat. I feel really privileged to be part of something that is one of a kind right now."
Some of the artifacts that will be on display were donated by Price, who initially agreed to be interviewed because his wife is involved in Farmington's Warrior to Citizen Campaign.
"I pretty much do what I'm told to do," Price said, "but even after we were done doing the interview, I was glad I did it. I'm just one of a few who get to get their story out and to tell the story of a soldier's life. The way we are and the way we see the world is way different... To get them to understand that what we do now may seem crazy, but it's not crazy for us. It was just an everyday part of life for us."
Price says he contributed some of his artifacts -- among them, an Iraqi male headdress which was a gift from an Iraqi local, and a few things his mother sent from home "to remind you of what home looked like" -- because he felt it was important for people to understand that there are lots of little things that are important to soldiers serving in today's conflicts.
"It's the small things that mean a lot to people when they're not home," he said.
About the exhibit
Called an oral history, the exhibit features portions of interviews from the many men and women who shared their thoughts and experiences. There are several DVD players with headphones, so visitors can listen to the personal accounts. In addition, there are several panels with quotes from some of those interviewed, as well as tables of artifacts.
It comes to Farmington Saturday, but the opening will be a private affair, open only to local soldiers and their families. That opening will be held from 1-3 p.m.
The exhibit opens to the public Sunday, 1-3 p.m. It will be on display at Farmington City Hall, 430 Third St., throughout the week. Times are as follows: Monday, Feb. 23, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb. 24, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wednesday, Feb. 25, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Thursday, Feb. 26, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
There is no charge to visit the exhibit.