A career footing: Soldier turned senator discusses impact of military service

While serving as a Chinook helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2003 Will Kraus flew missions totaling 340 combat flight hours.

While serving as a Chinook helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2003 Will Kraus flew missions totaling 340 combat flight hours.

A career spanning both active duty and reserve components of the armed forces, state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, embraces the lessons of hard work fostered during his military service, which he now incorporates into his efforts at the state Capitol.

And with nearly 22 years of uniformed service to his credit, the legislator asserts his own time in Army attire has inspired his continued support of the state’s military community.

A 1992 graduate of Sacred Heart High School in Sedalia, Kraus married his fiancée, Carmen, in July the same year, leaving only days later for his initial military training.

“I was always intrigued by the military,” said Kraus, “and the Army College Fund really interested me because I planned on serving out my enlistment period, coming home and then going to college.”

The active Army recruit spent the next several weeks at Fort Benning, Ga., completing basic training, infantry training and two weeks of specialized training with the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.

Finishing the training in late 1992, he was assigned to an armored calvary unit at Fort Hood, Texas, spending the next two years as a Bradley driver, gunner and — following his promotion to sergeant — a training NCO (non-commissioned officer).

He completed his enlistment in 1995, but decided to continue his military career after returning to Missouri. He joined the Missouri National Guard and began drilling with an artillery unit in Sedalia.

The veteran maintained his focus on securing an education by enrolling at a community college, but later transferred to what was then Central Missouri State University and took part in the Army Reserve Officer Traning Corps program.

In December 1997, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration along with receiving his commission as a second lieutenant.

The enlisted soldier turned officer transferred to a Missouri National Guard aviation unit and, though serving as a finance officer, held higher aspirations.

“We moved to Raytown after I began working as the operations manager for a store in Kansas City,” he said. “I always had the desire to fly, so after I transferred to an Army Reserve aviation unit in Olathe, Kan., I took the AFAST (military flight aptitude test) and passed.”

For the better part of a year, Kraus lived at Fort Rucker, Ala., learning to fly the CH-47 Chinook — a twin-engine helicopter often used by the military for missions involving troop movement, resupply or those requiring a major lift capacity.

He then returned to the Kansas City area and continued training with his reserve unit part time while working full time for Sprint. The monotony of his dual careers shifted direction when he was mobilized for deployment in 2003.

For the next year, his unit was headquartered in Balad, Iraq;. As a Chinook pilot, he flew 340 combat hours on various missions throughout the country.

During the early part of the deployment, Kraus said pilots would fly mostly during the day, occasionally altering their flight routes to avoid becoming a predictable target for enemy rocket-propelled grenade attacks. But after an unfortunate incident in late 2003, flight protocols changed.

“A Chinook was shot down — a Guard bird out of Oklahoma, I believe — and after that we went to 100 percent goggle flying the rest of the time we were there.” (The helicopters would fly at night with pilots utilizing night-vision goggles.)

After a year overseas, Kraus returned home in the spring of 2004, but soon resolved to embark upon another career path which also fell under the auspices of public service.

“I made the decision to run for the House (of Representatives) because I felt that my representative at that time did not reflect my views or values,” he said. “So I committed to doing something out of the norm … and ran for office.”

First elected in 2004, he went on to serve three terms in the House and, in 2010, was elected as the senator for the state’s 8th District.

Kraus was promoted to the rank of major in 2011, and has since returned to to the Missouri National Guard. He currently serves as an assistant operations officer with the 110th Movement Enhancement Brigade in Kansas City.

The father of two boys, the legislator proudly notes his oldest son, Tylor, has followed in his footsteps and is currently a member of the Army Reserve.

Though Kraus actively strives to apply his military derived experience in the General Assembly, he is not hesitant in promoting the value-added benefits of such service in all employment endeavors.

“The military can be a great way to get started in life,” he said, “just as it was for me. It can help you get a footing when you may be uncertain as to what direction you want to take.”

He added: “It helps teach you values, responsibility, loyalty, courage, leadership — all of those wonderful characteristics that employers appreciate and that can help ensure one’s success in a post-military career as well.”

Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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