National guard colonel retires

Col. Eric Ahlness has been all over the world during his 29-year stint with the United States Army National Guard. Ahlness recently retired after a decorated career and has transitioned to a postition at Cargill. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Col. Eric Ahlness was sent overseas many times in 29 years of service

Colonel Eric Ahlness has been all over the world. As part of his 29-year stint with the U.S. Army National Guard, he has seen short deployments in Greece, Norway, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and some longer deployments in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

"At a certain extent, the military is a very orderly environment, but the world can be a messy place," Ahlness said during a recent interview.

These stays haven't typically been for desirable reasons, but Ahlness has seen it all.

Now, it's time for a change. Ahlness has decided to retire from the Guard after a decorated career that included work as a scout platoon leader, military intelligence officer, staff officer, family programs director, infantry executive officer, and commander of the Regional Officer Candidate School located at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, Minnesota. He's also a member of North St. Paul's American Legion Post No. 39.

"I saw a couple of my contemporaries have a hard time with the transition," Ahlness said. "They started (their job search) too late, or took a job that didn't really appeal to them, so I started working with a nonprofit to help me find my next job."

Ahlness, now 50, had dreams of joining the military at an early age. When he decided to attend Mankato State University, he immediately joined its ROTC program upon hearing about it at freshman orientation. Because of his involvement with the ROTC, he was able to obtain a three-year scholarship while earning undergraduate degrees in both geography and history. Upon completion of college, he decided to continue his education in the Army Reserve while he pursued his master's degree in political science. He also earned a master's degree in strategic studies through an Army program.

The overseas mission that struck Ahlness the most was his deployment to Bosnia in 2003 and 2004. He served as chief of information operations, and tried to smooth out relations with the surrounding community in a post-war environment.

"That was our emphasis," he said. "How do we help people get to a peaceful state, rather than the military focus of actual fighting? We'd always have people armed, but we didn't have any combat operations at that time."

Don Kerr, the executive director in military affairs for the Minnesota Army Reserve and a retired colonel, oversaw Ahlness' time in both Bosnia and in the National Guard.

"Eric always sought out hard jobs, and sometimes got them whether he sought them or not. Still, he always attacked (the jobs)--even the jobs that weren't always sought after. He tried to make his presence there very effective."

While his time in Bosnia didn't involve combat, his time in Afghanistan was just the reverse. He was there in 2011 and 2012 and saw his share of firefights. Still, he said, there was some overlap from his time in Bosnia.

"In Afghanistan, first and foremost, you had to be ready to conduct your combat mission," he said. "There were numerous instances that was done, but still, I led a business campaign there, too."

Ahlness will now switch his career focus over to Cargill, where he'll join the human relations staff doing similar work from his deployment in Bosnia--serving as the North American lead for diversity and business impact.

He sees his future with Cargill as bright, especially with the support of his wife, Lori, another retired military officer, as well as their daughter, Ellen, a college senior at her father's alma mater.

With this new opportunity, Ahlness said he'll take on a similar approach that he took on as a member of the United States military: hard work and an orderly environment.

Tim Faklis can be reached at 651-748-7814, at, or on Twitter @tfaklisnews.


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