(WFRV) - A top National Guard official from Ripon was nearing retirement, but felt the need to serve overseas like the countless men and women he helped deploy.
Jeff Paulson signed up for an ROTC scholarship in high school never dreaming it would lead to a career.
"Small town values that you grow up with and I guess it just led me down that path" Paulson explains.
He worked his way through the ranks of the National Guard, eventually winding up as the Director of Aviation for all of Wisconsin.
"Since 9/11, things really have changed for all of us. Here in the Guard in Wisconsin the aviation units have been almost committed constantly since 2002 really"
Nearing retirement after more than three decades of service, Paulson had never deployed overseas.
"As the end got near for me, I felt a little bit like it would be a hole in my soul if I also didn't get to step on that side of the experience".
He voluntarily converted to a lower rank to serve in the middle east.
"Now all of a sudden I go from the top to looking at it from the bottom up, so it was a very unique perspective".
Paulson turned 56 while in Afghanistan, the oldest in his unit.
He knew firsthand how hard the time would be on his wife and three kids.
"My son deployed so I lived it not only from a leadership standpoint in the military, but lived it as a family member, and watching what sacrifices the families are making".
Memories that stir raw emotion as a soldier and father.
[My son] "Jake's unit lost three soldiers".
Those young men from the Appleton based 127th, Sgt. Wallace, Spc. Wendling and Sgt. Jopek were always on Paulson's mind as he flew life saving missions.
"If you got tired or were worried about the conditions you were in you just start thinking about that".
A coin in his pocket a constant reminder of the warrior creed.
"Mission first, never quit, never accept defeat. In Medivac we have a unique part in the last part of that which is never leave a fallen comrade".
Paulson piloted countless medical missions while in Afghanistan, but one has gained national attention on CNN.
It started about as a routine as things get in a warzone, medical help for a young girl.
"After we had landed, we blow dust all over, as the dust settled the marines come up carrying their comrade. That was the new patient".
The young Marine had a rocket propelled grenade lodged in his leg, live ammunition.
Paulson and the medical crew did not miss a beat making sure their patient was treated within the golden hour.
"If we can get an injured soldier to definitive care within that hour his survival rates are just exponentially better".
The marine is doing well recovering now stateside.
News Paulson was happy to hear considering he never finds out the fate of many patients.
"You don't dwell on it real long because it's on to the next thing. Got to be ready for the next mission".
The mission now brings Paulson to his hometown of Ripon to start a new career of sorts.
"I'm a grandpa now. Two granddaughters born while I was gone".
But he is not hanging up the uniform completely.
Paulson plans to stay active in the guard...
"They do throw you out at 60, I don't know if I'll stay that long" he jokes.
"I have seen a lot of changes in my career and hopefully I've been able to make some kind of mark in what the guard has become or at least what aviation in the guard has become".