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Recruiting spotlight: Esko, Minnesota

  • Published
  • By Audra Flanagan
  • 148th Fighter Wing

DULUTH, MN -- In a time where approximately .05% of Americans currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, it’s interesting to see communities crushing the statistics.  Esko, Minnesota, with a population of 2,200 is one community far exceeding the norms.

In the past six years alone, 35 young adults, which is more than 1.5% of Esko’s population, have enlisted at the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing, a Minnesota Air National flying wing equipped with the F-16 Fighting Falcon.  Another 20 or so Esko residents are currently serving which means more than 2.5% of Esko currently serves at the 148th while additional recent graduates have joined other military service branches.

“There is no doubt “word of mouth” is a primary reason for so many students looking at the 148th Fighter Wing,” said Aaron Fischer, Superintendent of Esko Public Schools.  “Students are hearing how well the 148th Fighter Wing is managed and have seen the growth of their friends.  They hear about the extensive training opportunities and see a chance to learn while serving their country.”

Class of 2021 Esko High School graduate, Senior Airman Mallory Sunnarborg joined because “I wasn’t sure which college degree I wanted to pursue immediately after high school.  Enlisting allowed me more time to make the right decision while working towards a career that pays for travel opportunities and school benefits.”

Sunnarborg is currently using her education benefits while she pursues a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Entrepreneurship and Data Analysis from Liberty University. 

Class of 2019 Esko High School alum, Staff Sgt. Logan Grayson joined the 148th because of his family’s strong ties to the unit as well as education and health care benefits. Grayson’s father, aunt, and two siblings also serve at the 148th

Grayson, a Tactical Aircraft Maintenance Specialist, or crew chief, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from the University of Minnesota, using the education benefits he earned by serving in the Air National Guard, in May of 2023.  Grayson is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration at the University of Minnesota. 

“I think a big reason for Esko’s high enlistment numbers is the town’s close relationship with the 148th.  Many families have ties to the unit and students are constantly hearing about the benefits and experiences of military service,” said Grayson. 

Class of 2017 Esko High School alum, Staff Sgt. Isaak Blue, enlisted at the 148th in 2018 for education benefits and job skills.  The full time Fighter Aircraft Integrated Avionics Specialist has since traveled to Las Vegas and Belgium for training deployments, mobilized to Washington D.C. in support of the 59th Presidential Inauguration, and deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield.

“I’d encourage anyone considering joining the Air National Guard to come with an open mind and tour many of the available career fields,” said Blue. Currently, the 148th boasts 66 diverse career fields from aircraft maintenance to logistics to administration. 

“Esko High School’s traditions of excellence and service match the values of the 148th,” said Greg Hexum, Esko High School Principal.  “Esko students view the 148th as a unit in which they can contribute to our country while developing themselves, building future opportunities within and beyond the military.  Our school and community hold in high esteem those who have the spirit, perseverance, and willingness to pursue causes that are bigger than the individual.  We are proud of the Esko High School – 148th connection.”