While attending fifth grade at Haines Elementary in 1978, Karl Kurz checked out a book that described the adventures of a West Point graduate.
"I decided then it was the life for me," said Kurz.
Seven years later, Kurz left Haines for West Point. And this spring he retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel.
Kurz, son of Bill and Janet Kurz of Haines, was born in New Jersey in 1969. The family moved to Haines in 1973. He married Jaclyn Smith in 2005 and they welcomed their first child, daughter Mackenzie Marie, on July 24.
Kurz credits much of his success to his childhood in Haines, his schooling here and his family, friends and teachers that encouraged him to find his passion and follow it. Kurz said he didn’t get into trouble much as a kid, but neither does he think he was a standout in athletics or academics.
"I was the least interesting person I knew, from that perspective," Kurz said. "I was so busy not being bored that I didn’t have time to get in trouble."
Kurz was active in track and student government, and state and national government educational opportunities, like Boys’ State.
Growing up, Kurz said he and his family also stayed active at their home near Mosquito Lake. The family ran a small concession stand near their home where Kurz spent a lot of time. He was also an avid reader, and had family chores to keep him busy.
"Part of living 27 miles outside of town was that my brother and I were responsible for finding, cutting and splitting firewood to make it through the winter," he said. "That was very time consuming and ensured we didn’t get into too much trouble."
The emphasis on hard work from his family and in school also helped carry Kurz through a mostly trouble-free childhood and into a military career.
"I think the most important thing I learned in childhood was that many things in life consisted of hard work and those who accepted that premise were going to be fine. It is the lazy and the people who don’t see difficult tasks through to completion that get left behind."
His family promoted military service, Kurz said. His brother, Jay, joined the Alaska Army National Guard and Kurz said he found the discipline and sense of belonging important in his life.
While in high school, Kurz said he took a standard college prep course load and did well with his academics in order to get accepted to West Point. But he said also that Haines High School and the teachers prepared him well for the rigors of the academy.
"I think I can safely say high school not only prepared me but was the reason I was able to graduate (West Point)," Kurz said.
He remembers teachers John Bruce and Harold Morden taking an interest in his goals and encouraging him to work diligently on his science and math studies. Kurz said most teachers at the school were encouraging of students, no matter what paths or goals they were looking toward.
After graduating West Point, Kurz became a commissioned officer in the Armor Branch and was initially stationed in Korea to train for the employment of tanks and conduct of reconnaissance in combat.
"I learned a lot about how lucky we are in the U.S. in so many ways," he said. "I also began a lifetime of learning about other cultures."
Later in his career, Kurz was stationed with the Defense Information Systems Agency and became a lead engineer in developing a secure web conferencing and chat system for the Department of Defense. The service helps the military with a range of services, including direct support to combat operations to helping deployed service members keep in contact with their families.
Most recently Kurz spent a month in Saudi Arabia, spending time with the professional soldiers in the Saudi Army.
"I came away very impressed with their dedication of their religion, their families and their craft," Kurz said.
Now retired from the Army, Kurz continues to work with the Defense Information Systems Agency and he and his family live in Silver Spring, Md., just outside Washington D.C.
Because of his career, Kurz said he hasn’t had the chance to visit Haines much over the last several years. But he did return for his 10-year high school reunion in 1997 and is attending his 20-year reunion at West Point at the end of September. The upcoming reunion got Kurz thinking about how he went from a kid in Mosquito Lake to a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and how no student growing up in Haines should think they can’t create their dream job and life for themselves, just like he did.
"In my circle of friends who will attend the West Point reunion, five remain on active duty. One is a state senator and two transferred to the Army Reserve and are currently deployed. Finally, there are two attorneys, one security guard, two stay-at-home moms and a small business owner," Kurz said.
"My point? Success is not your ability to achieve the goals somebody else sets for you. Your goals should be your own and they may change over time. Achieving your goals will likely be difficult and require a lot of work, but achieving those goals is its own reward. If your goal is to be a car mechanic in Haines, then darn it, be the best car mechanic in Haines."