Mark Hodson was still in high school when he made the decision to join the military.
“I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to start a career in the military,” said Hodson, who graduated from Blair High School in 1983.
He had hoped to enter the U.S. Air Force as his uncle did, but a one-year waiting period for that service branch had him looking elsewhere.
“My best friend was in the Coast Guard. He was in the state of Washington and loved it, so I joined,” Hodson said.
Hodson, a lifelong Blair resident, enlisted on July 22, 1985.
After bootcamp, he was stationed on the USCGC Sundew in Duluth, Minn. He spent a year on that ship on Lake Superior. The Sundew was tasked with ice breaking and aids to navigation on the lake. The crew refueled lighthouses, serviced weather buoys and completed some search and rescue for ships.
Hodson's role was maintaining the ship and its engines.
After reaching the rank of E4, Hodson was sent to Yorktown, Va., where he received his schooling as a machinery technician, which qualified him to work on diesel, gas and turbine engines.
From there, he was stationed at Depoe Bay, Ore., on the Pacific Ocean. He and his fellow Coast Guardsmen were tasked with search and rescue and law enforcement, working with Oregon state troopers, who were also game wardens.
“Some days we'd just board every boat that came in the harbor,” said Hodson, who trained in Petaluma, Calif., on law enforcement before heading back to Depoe Bay.
The Coast Guardsmen were looking for fishing violations, boating safety, and in some cases, drugs.
After serving more than four years with the Coast Guard, Hodson transferred to the Coast Guard Reserves in Omaha and the USCGC Gasconade on Dec. 21, 1989.
His unit was called up on several occasions.
“In 1993, I spent a month down in Hannibal, Mo., sandbagging and getting people out of their homes,” Hodson said of the flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Hodson's unit was called up twice to Port Arthur, Texas, where they provided security for load outs headed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
His last tour was in April 2010 in Panama City, Fla., after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We collected anything that washed up on the shore,” he said.
Hodson retired from the Coast Guard on July 1, 2014, after nearly 30 years. His final rank was E7 machinery technician chief.
The best thing about the military, Hodson said, was the people he met and the friends he made.
“I still stay in contact with a lot of my old shipmates and a lot of the people I was stationed with in Oregon and the people here in Omaha,” he said. “You're a tight family. The Coast Guard is small. It's a lot smaller than any of the other branches, so you're pretty tight bunch of people.”
Hodson is grateful for his time and experience in the military.
“It made me who I am,” he said. “You grow up, you respect others and I think the military definitely makes you a better person.”
Today, Hodson works for the City of Blair as the public works superintendent. He said serving in the military prepared him for his civilian life.
“It's given me good people skills. Just growing up and the respect that you get and give,” he said. “I don't know what I would be like if I hadn't gone in. It definitely made me a better person. If I had a chance, I'd do it all over again. I'd never change it.”