Larsen Lives Life, Defends Country On Way to Degree
As a freshman wandering the campus of Boise State University, Joshua Larsen of Nampa had only a vague notion of what he wanted to do: something with engineering and something outdoors.
What he learned that first year was the Army Reserve and the University of Idaho would be the paths that would lead him to success. He graduates from UI this month with his Bachelor of Science in forest resources, with a minor in forest operations, and vast experience from a tour in Afghanistan.
“I grew up in the city. I didn’t know anything about forestry,” Larsen said. He also didn’t know much about the rest of the world. Now six short years later, he is an expert in both.
Larsen visited UI during spring break of his sophomore year. Tom Gorman, associate dean of the College of Natural Resources, was the first person he met and who taught Larsen about the use of engineering in forestry.
Larsen spent that summer at basic training, developing a parallel track as a combat engineer before moving to Moscow.
He began the forestry program with the basic classes like forest measurements, although he admits he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing. He built his skills from zero and applied them the next summer at an internship with Potlatch Corp.
“That was an eye-opener for the corporate end of forest engineering,” Larsen said.
When he moved to Moscow, he transferred to the Army Reserve unit in Hayden Lake, knowing they were deploying to Afghanistan.
“It wasn’t until I was on the ground in Afghanistan that it reality hit,” he said. “Then it was this nervous tension the entire time.”
For four months, Larsen and his team headed out across the Afghan desert, down countless roads, with the sole mission of finding and disposing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). IEDs caused 61 percent of the American troop casualties in Afghanistan in 2013, according to USA Today.
Seeing the culture and experiencing life half a world away was amazing for the Idaho native. Much of the unit’s work was centered out of Kandahar, which is ground zero for troops from around the world.
“I met so many soldiers from around the world,” Larsen said. “It was a great learning experience.”
A dislocated shoulder ultimately sent Larsen to Germany for surgery and back to Fort Lewis for recovery and rehabilitation. Looking for a way to pass the time while recovering, Larsen signed up for an independent study program through UI. It allowed him to take some courses and continue toward his degree during the down time. Five months later he flew home — it was the same day his unit hit Idaho soil.
Larsen has not only juggled school and the Army Reserves for six years, he also got married along the way. He and his wife, Heather, have two children. Heather is on track to graduate from UI in fall 2016.
“Time management is key,” Larsen said. “If you have a family, keep that up. We make it a point to have dinner together. It’s not always easy but I have never thought I wouldn’t finish.”
• Article written by Jodi Walker, College of Natural Resources