First Josh Young got an education. Then he went to college.
He just didn’t know that when he started taking courses while deployed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 that it would take more than two decades to complete his goal to be the first in his family to earn a degree.
For his determination, Young, a student at St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis, will receive the Adult Learner of the Year Award on Tuesday from the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service. The award honors the person whose academic skills (he has a 4.0 GPA) match their community involvement.
While a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard serving in Somalia, he was one of the responders to the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident, just part of a sometimes harrowing but always rewarding life.
Two days after he landed, a good friend was one of four soldiers killed by snipers.
“It made me grow up quick,” said Young, 39, a Minneapolis police officer by day. “A year earlier I had been playing high school football and now I was 19 and in firefights. It’s a big thing to go through.”
Young also spent a year in southern Iraq in 2009, supporting the 1st Armored Division’s mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Young’s father and grandfather had served in Korea and World War II, so “becoming a soldier was something that appealed to me. I’m big on doing your duty for your country. I’ve always admired the Greatest Generation and all they sacrificed.”
His police job has not been boring, either. In 2012 he was twice awarded for heroics.
In February, he received a Lifesaving Award for saving an eight-month-old baby from choking on a grape.
“His mother called 911 and spoke Spanish,” Young said. “So I only knew there was an emergency. When I got there the baby was gray.”
Young was able to dislodge the grape enough to get the baby breathing, but the moment was unsettling: He was about to become a father in two months, which he said was actually the scariest moment of his life.
“It was hard on me, seeing that baby like that,” he said. “The parents were really thankful that I was there.”
In September 2012, Young received a Medal of Commendation because of an arrest in June. It came at a price: two broken vertebrae.
Young was called to an apartment to tell someone to turn down their stereo. He was about to leave when he heard a crash, and responded to find a naked woman covered with blood and a man attacking her.
The woman had a mental disability and the man had kicked in her door and was trying to kill her. He charged Young, and a vicious fight ensued.
It ended with both of them hurtling down a staircase and Young landing on his back. He has been on desk duty since, until last week, when he was cleared to hit the streets again.
This time, he’ll do so as a proud college graduate.
Young said an instructor in Somalia impressed upon soldiers the need to continue to educate themselves.
So he took classes in police sciences, then attended courses whenever he could find the time between deployments and police work. He said St. Mary’s is especially understanding of military and police schedules.
“Getting an education was always important to me,” Young said. “It gives you better perspective on life. In my job, you get to see completely different environments, and my education helps me understand them.”
Young’s stint in Somalia has also helped him deal with the Somali population here.
“Besides our Somali officers, I’m maybe the only officer who has actually been to Somalia,” he said.
Young isn’t done yet. Even though he and his girlfriend are expecting their second child, he plans to begin his pursuit of a master’s degree in criminal science.