Second grade teacher becomes student in National Guard classroom

While applying thick green grease paint, Spc. Zachary Lutjen works to camouflage himself during a weekend drill with the Recruit Sustainment Program at the Kansas City armory on Ozark Road. After receiving his final training to be a horizontal construction engineer at Fort Leonard Wood, Lutjen will serve with the 1135th Engineer Company (Route Clearance) in Richmond, Mo. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)


By Jennifer Archdekin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Having joined the National Guard, second grade teacher Spc. Zachary Lutjen, of Lincoln, Mo., has now become the student.

Mr. L, as his students at Henry County R-II Elementary School in Windsor refer to him, has signed on to be a Citizen-Soldier placing him in a new classroom. Lutjen is now being instructed at Fort Leonard Wood to become a horizontal construction engineer with the new 1135th Engineer Company (Route Clearance) in Richmond.

"I always wanted to do something in the military," said Lutjen.

After graduating from Lincoln High School in 2003, Lutjen opted to start his college career first while on an academic scholarship and put a military career on hold.

"I switched majors five times because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life," said Lutjen. "If I had been smart I would have done the Guard first because I was just lost for the first couple of years of college."

While still in college, Lutjen spoke with his younger cousin who had joined the National Guard and learned more about what he had to gain with the National Guard."

"He did it and he liked it a lot," said Lutjen. "He kept talking to me about it and so I decided that was the route I wanted to take.

Though sold on the idea to enlist, Lutjen first chose to finish college.

"My dad always told me, before he passed away, you need to finish one thing before you start another," said Lutjen. "He said if you want to do the Guard, that's fine, but I'd like you to finish college first."

That was his plan. Once Lutjen graduated from Central Missouri University in 2009 with a teaching degree, he was at a point to consider the Missouri National Guard and make his aspirations of serving in the military a reality. He spoke with his recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Gary Courtney, and told him he wanted a job that was completely opposite from teaching.

"When I signed up I said I wanted the farthest thing away from teaching," said Lutjen. "It's not that I don't like it, but I don't want to sit behind a desk on a drill weekend. Sgt. 1st Class Courtney said being an engineer was the way to go then."

Though he is apart from his students while away at school, Lutjen said the kids take it in stride.

"Honestly, the kids love it," said Lutjen. "I taught them how to march the first week of school because they were all excited about Mr. Lutjen being in the Army. It worked out really well because they are perfect little Soldiers walking down the hallway. They always want me to tell them about what I do."

Lutjen also coaches junior high basketball for the Windsor Greyhounds and his coaching counterpart happens to serve in the Air National Guard.

"Both of us are military," said Lutjen. "That helps out a whole bunch on junior high boys because they can be kind of wild."

As a teacher with summers off, the National Guard works great with his schedule, however, Lutjen is aware that stateside missions and lengthy overseas deployments are always a possibility.

"My superintendent and my principal know this," said Lutjen. "They said we'll work through it. They are OK with it."

Soon Lutjen will begin drilling once a month with his engineer unit in Richmond.

"I don't know what to expect," said Lutjen. "I'm excited about it though. It's exciting to have my job, to be in the unit and to be doing what I'm supposed to be doing."

Lutjen is supported by his two daughters, Shelby, 6 years, and Veda, 16 months. He is the son of Lovyna Lutjen and the late Farand Lutjen.

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Before shipping to Fort Leonard Wood for his final phase of training as a new Citizen-Soldier, Spc. Zachary Lutjen does push-ups while drilling with the Recruit Sustainment Program at the Kansas City armory on Ozark Road. Lutjen will serve as a horizontal construction engineer with the 1135th Engineer Company (Route Clearance) in Richmond, Mo. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)

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