Taylor Kolls deploys to Afghanistan with the 1/3 Marines
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., had a profound impact on Taylor Kolls, then 12 years old.
"From that moment on, I knew I was going to join the military. I just didn't know what branch," the 20-year-old U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal said during a recent visit home, before shipping out to Afghanistan.
He picked the Marines - enlisting during his senior year at Hudson High School - because of their reputation as a fierce and effective fighting force.
"I get that all the time," Kolls replied when a reporter expressed some surprise that a young man with his opportunities would choose the rigorous training and self-sacrifice the Corps demands.
His father is Jay Kolls, sidekick to Patrick Reusse on KSTP radio's (AM 1500) morning show and a former television newsman. His mother is Rebecca Kolls, host of the nationally syndicated "Rebecca's Garden" show for 11 years and a former WCCO-TV (Channel 4) meteorologist. She now publishes "Rebecca Kolls' Seasons" magazine.
A Marine buddy from Minnesota spilled the beans about who Kolls' mom is, and then - like the reporter - they all wanted to know what he was doing there. Why did he enlist?
"Basically, I just wanted to do my own thing," Kolls replied.
Plus, the 9-11 attacks aroused in him a feeling of responsibility to do his part to defend his country.
A visit to Arlington National Cemetery as an eighth-grader heightened his sense of patriotic duty.
Kolls recalled being profoundly moved seeing the gravestones of the thousands of people who had served their country, many of whom died defending it.
"I felt like it was almost a duty to do it - to serve," he said.
Rebecca admitted having reservations about her only son (Taylor has a 17-year-old sister, Madison) joining the military.
But when he came home at age 17 with "9.11.01" tattooed on his side, she knew his commitment was deep-seated.
Kolls told his parents that he asked the artist to apply the tattoo to a sensitive place on his body because he wanted the pain to remind him of the pain felt by the families of 9-11 victims.
"That's when I came around to him enlisting. I thought, OK, I've got a special kid on my hands," Rebecca said.
Kolls said the tattoo also helped him keep his focus when things got rough during boot camp.
"It would remind me of what I was doing, and why I was doing it," he said.
Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego lived up to its reputation of being an ordeal.
The athletic Kolls, a high school hockey and football player, said he handled the physical demands OK, but the psychological challenge of putting up with drill instructors, combat instructors and hours of standing by was greater than he expected.
"I think everybody goes through a time in boot camp when you are down on yourself," he said. "You just want to lie down or go home."
He never doubted that he would make it through training.
"I knew that's what I wanted to do. I knew that after all this hard work and (training) was over it would turn out for the best," he said.
After boot camp, Kolls went to Camp Pendleton outside of San Diego for two months of advanced infantry training as a machine-gunner.
He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines based in Hawaii last February.
He expected his job in Afghanistan to be manning a .50-caliber heavy machine gun mounted on top of an armored Humvee.
He's a member of a CAAT team (Combined Anti-Armor Team) that will provide security for supply convoys and respond to IED (improvised explosive device) attacks.
The 1/3 Marines had a month of specialized training in California to prepare for the deployment. They reacted to roadside IED explosions and small-arms fire in fake cities, and interacted with people hired to pose as Afghan citizens.
"That was probably the best training we had," Kolls said.
He's enjoying life as a Marine now that his training is over.
"Right now, I don't feel anything. I'm just going back to work," he said when asked if he was nervous about the deployment. "But I'm sure once I'm on that plane over there, or when I go out on my first mission, I'll be a little nervous."
Kolls' fiancee, Monique Lamoureux, said she was worried.
Lamoureux also is serving her country - as a member of the U.S. women's hockey team.
Kolls and Lamoureux met at the 2008 USA Girls Hockey National Championships in Philadelphia.
He was there to watch his younger sister, Madison, play with the Shattuck-St. Mary's School team from Faribault, Minn., but Lamoureux - a teammate of Madison's - caught his eye.
Madison later encouraged Lamoureux to ask Kolls to be her date to the Shattuck-St. Mary's prom. He accepted, they fell in love, and are now engaged to be married.
Lamoureux was the rookie of the year in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award (awarded to the top player in NCAA Division I women's hockey) her freshman year with the University of Minnesota women's team.
Her twin sister, Jocelyne, is a teammate on the national team that will be battling for a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. They also played together with the Gophers, and will be teammates next year on the University of North Dakota women's team.
Lamoureux is from Grand Forks, N.D., where UND is located.
Madison Kolls also will play for the UND Fighting Sioux in 2010-11. She's now a senior at Shattuck-St. Mary's.
Kolls plans to enroll at UND when his commitment to the Marine Corps is over.
"So it's going to be like all in the family up in North Dakota," Rebecca said.
Lamoureux was disappointed that she had to leave for a tournament in Finland the day before Kolls arrived home on Oct. 31. The tournament cut short their precious time together.
Kolls flew back to Hawaii on Nov. 12 and was expecting to depart for Afghanistan a few days later.
The 1/3 Marines are scheduled to serve a seven-month tour in Afghanistan - until June 15, 2010.