Like many of her generation, a historic event pushed Crystal Kliegl into the military: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
A sophomore at Fort Dodge Senior High School, Kliegl was in school the day hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. She said she couldn’t really understand what was going on at the time, but it ultimately pushed her into the Marine Corps.
“I remember watching it on TV and thinking I had to do something,” she says. “I really didn’t think of the military as a career, but my friends said they knew I would. They remember me dressed as a marine in fourth year. I guess I don’t remember. But I just felt it was my duty to do something. That’s how I felt.
Kliegl’s father was also a Marine, which she says also helped her decide.
Kliegl enlisted in the Marine Corps her freshman year in high school and left for boot camp less than two months after graduating from high school in 2004.
She was stationed for four years at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Calif., and served as a supply marine in storage. She obtained the rank of corporal. She has also been deployed twice, serving in Iraq in 2006 and 2008. Each deployment lasted 10 months.
“I really didn’t know if I wanted to make it my job” said Kliegl. “After a few years I said I would stay until I wanted to have kids. Then I got pregnant and decided not to re-engage after my first stint.
Now retired from the service for more than a dozen years, Kliegl says the skills she learned in the military come in handy in her current career as a high school English teacher.
“As a teacher, I think I can stay calm in the midst of a lot of panic,” she says. “I can keep calm in serious situations and make logical decisions.
“I got promoted two years out of service and was responsible for 20-30 Marines. I had to get to know each one of them. That’s how I take care of my students.
Kliegl didn’t jump into teaching right away. She worked in the business world for several years, including managing a fitness center. But she soon realized she wanted to do something more impactful.
“I decided that this was not the legacy I wanted to leave” she says. “I didn’t think I was making a difference.”
Kliegl has been at Fort Dodge Senior High since 2020. Her husband, Aron, also works as a caretaker for the high school. His children are Lily (13) and Makai (10).
She said she would encourage any student thinking about the military to make sure it’s the right decision for them.
“I would ask them to think about why they want to join the military, but I would also tell them that it was the best decision I made,” she says. “I learned so many life lessons from my experience.”