Adapt and overcome motto that got him through and achieve his dream.
Posted Feb. 28, 2013
By BREANNA KAITFORS
Special to the Record
United States Deputy Marshal Joe Braaten was at the Hettinger High School on Tuesday, Feb. 19, talking to students about his journey, struggles, and the hard work it took to become a U.S. Marshal.
Braaten, Hettinger native, graduated from high school in 1998. He said he was never a really good student and didn’t particularly know what he wanted to do with his life while he was growing up.
“The people who know me really well know I had no one straight path,” he said regarding his young life.
Braaten was diagnosed with ADHD when he was young and didn’t take it very well. He was mad, embarrassed. He’d always struggled through life and now there was what he saw as an added disability to make things even harder on him. It took a while, but he finally realized there was no reason to be ashamed.
“I learned I had to adapt and overcome,” he said.
By his senior year Braaten said he was still floundering in which direction to go in life.
“There was about three months until graduation and I still hadn’t taken an ACT much less applied to any colleges,” he said. “I just didn’t see my life going that way.”
Braaten finally went to guidance counselor who helped him take an aptitude test. He scored the best in the emergencies area – which meant that he would do well as a firefighter, law enforcement, or an EMT type of job. His counselor recommended joing dthe coast guard.
As he was reading into it and finishing school, Braaten was accepted into NDSU, but he still didn’t have the desire to go to college.
“I didn’t want to waste time and money of myself or my family when I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be,” he said. So instead of the traditional college route after high school, he chose the coast guard.
It wasn’t easy. Braaten tried four different times before he was finally accepted into MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Fargo, where he endured physical testing for eight straight hours to ensure he was fit enough to join the Coast Guard.
When Braaten was in the ninth grade, he had blown out his right ankle while playing basketball. The old injury came back to haunt him when he failed MEPS due in part to the old injury and, in part, his ADHD. He was told they could sign away the ADHD, but he would have to work on the ankle if he ever wanted to be part of the Guard. He would have to adapt and overcome.
The third low blow to Braaten’s life came when his brother was tragically killed in a car wreck in December. He still gets emotional after all this time thinking about what happened that night.
“I didn’t want to be without his brother,” he said. But again, he would adapt and overcome.
Braaten decided he was going to get into the Coast Guard no matter what it took. He had surgery on this leg, was in a knee high cast for two months followed by another two months of physical therapy. He needed his ankle to be at its prime for him to do what he wanted to do. When he went back to MEPS, he passed.
The first step
Seattle, Wash. was next on the map for Braaten. He was based there for boot camp, but he didn’t stay put. He has, to this day, traveled all over the world. He’s been to Australia, four times, Hawaii and the American Samoa, twice, just to name a few of his destinations.
While he was a Guard, he was a non-rank who had no specific job. Braaten wanted to do aviation, search and rescue; which was the hardest department to get into. He was thrilled to find he was qualified and he sat on the list for six months. Then he was told he was taken off the list because his eyesight wasn’t good enough. He didn’t have good enough depth perception at night to do what needed to be done. He would have to adapt and overcome.
So he became an electrician’s mate. Braaten went to Yorktown, Va., for school where he was greeted with two straight weeks of math classes – his worst and least favorite subject
“I didn’t think I could do it,” he said. In high school, a D-average in math carried him through, and was worried, but continued on. He aced all of these math classes. He placed 5th in a class of 27 students. He was gaining confidence in himself and his dreams seemed to come closer to reality.
Braaten chose to be based out of Miami, Fla. The Miami squad was mostly law enforcement and search and rescue; similar to what he’d wanted to do in aviation. Of course there were other duties as well. He was an engineer and it was his job to search the three-story tall ship engines, help keep immigrates out of the country and was one of the many men in charge of port security.
Braaten and his unit brought down many drug deals.
“One time we interrupted the import of 48 bales of cocaine, which has a street value of over $10 million,” he said.
Braaten spent two years in Miami. When he’d first started, he would get very sea sick with his patrol. Eventually he got used to it, but there were other things worrying him.
Braaten went to a doctor and asked about anxiety disorders. The doctor asked what some of his symptoms are and he told him of his major symptoms: pacing, nervousness, feeling stiff, joints popping, massive headaches, worrying a lot. The doctor diagnosed him and gave Braaten a medication for anxiety. At first he was embarrassed. He didn’t want anyone to know.
“It was a similar feeling to the one I’d had when first diagnosed with ADHD,” he said. Again, he had to adapt and overcome.
But, he took his medication and he noticed vast improvement in his life. For the first time, he knew what it felt like to not worry about things so severely, and had contol over his life instead of the other way around.
“I wish I’d done this sooner,” he said.
His anxiety had always made him want to sleep instead of getting excited for things like basketball games in high school. If he could have had the medication back then, he said, things might have been much better.
It was time for Braaten to get out of the military, and Braaten knew what path he wanted to take – he wanted to be a United States Marshall.
Braaten went to NDSU and tried out for the basketball team. He loved basketball and now that he’d had the opportunity to better himself physically, he thought it would be a good way to get back into the swing of things.
However, one night pain struck Braaten. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t breathe. His back was putting him in severe discomfort. The doctor told him his back was broken; that it’d been for a while. He would have to adapt and overcome.
College after all
Braaten moved back to Fargo and resumed school. He couldn’t play ball, so instead he took a coaching class. He wanted to become a student manager. He was given an assignment: watch practice and then write a paper about it. He needed to do that twice, but did it seven times instead, showing how devoted he was to this position.
Joe Braaten graduated from NDSU in December with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology.
Soon after, he joined the National Guard in the MP (Military Police) unit. His unit was set up for pre-deployment unit to Iraq. Braaten wanted to deploy but wasn’t sure if he could because of his back issues so he went to see a specialist. He was a Seargent, in charge of 10 soldiers and he wanted to deploy with them. He would adapt and he would overcome.
Braaten’s paperwork and details are worked out. He was ready to go.
“Three days before I was supposed to leave, I was told there was no way I could wear the vest and was disqualified,” he said.
He went back to the MPs and taught classes which forced him to research, apply himself, and learn. He had been there for just a year when his unit came and nominated him as Soldier of the Year. It was a “cool” offer, but he turned it down. He had other goals; he still wanted to be a U.S. Marshal. Braaten was thinking of the unit rather than himself because he wanted out and that wasn’t a quality found in a Soldier of the Year.
Braaten got into a recruiting session for the U.S. Marshal Service. He knew it would be brutal and he knew he needed to be in better shape physically. He went out and bought an exercise program and committed fully to making this work. In 45 days, he lost 35 lbs. He changed his diet and stuck to this work out and gained back 20 pounds in muscle. He was in amazing shape but his training was 22 months long. It was long and hard and he wasn’t sure he was going to get in.
He was told it was time to move on and pick something else. That wasn’t what Braaten had in mind. He wouldn’t give up; not until he was told it was game over.
Two months later, he got the offer. Braaten packed up and went to a 17 ½-week long academy in Georgia. The academy was very physical. They did everything from kick boxing to judo, karate and taekwondo. In week 4, Braaten was body slammed, hard. It threw his back out and he could barely walk or even breathe. But he wasn’t going to let it set him back. He set up an appointments 2-3 times a week to make it through. He adapted and overcame.
On June 20, 2010, Braaten graduated from the Academy. There were more than 600,000 applicants and he was one of the 200 that were picked for the Marshal Service.
“Some of my main duties are: to see that the U.S. judicial system stays intact, transporting prisoners, provide judicial security, asset forfeitures, and heading the witness protection program,” he said. “U.S. Marshals are mostly known for their extraditions and fugitive apprehension and they deal often with gangs.”
After 10 years of hard work, adapting, and overcoming many things, Braaten now lives in Denver, Colo. and is working in his dream job.
His advice to the students – don’t give up, especially when it seems impossible.
“Work hard, adapt and overcome the situations you face in life,” he said.