CAMP VICTORY, Kuwait -- Deployed to Lebanon, Sarajevo and Kosovo as a member of the Swedish Army and later to Operation Iraqi Freedom as a U.S. Marine, reservist Cpl. Sven Hestrand once again is serving his country abroad.
This time, Hestrand is a member of the Personal Security Detachment for Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the I Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, for the MEF's second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"People always ask, 'You just spent six months over there - why go back?'" said Hestrand, who completed his first tour in Iraq in December of 2003. "Because I like it - not in the sense of adventure, but in the aspect of giving me purpose in my life. I don't have to worry about the incidentals, the gas prices or who's winning on American Idol, because it really doesn't matter out here. The only thing that does is doing your job and staying alive, and you get hooked up with some of the best people in the world doing it."
Hestrand's first deployments came when he was in the Swedish Army, as a member of United Nations peacekeeping forces.
"It's a great eye-opener for young guys," he said. "It's a chance to see new cultures and work with foreign militaries."
These deployments were not a leisure vacation for the peacekeeper - places like Lebanon and Bosnia were designated combat zones and it was the mission of the U.N. peacekeepers to bring stability to the countries.
Hestrand speaks little about that period in his life, but admits he's gained confidence in himself, and how he will react in combat situations.
"I fall back on my training," he said. "A lot of guys don't even think about it as combat during - you realize after the fact, 'I could've died.'"
He also said he feels very comfortable with his team, because most have been through the stresses of combat and have experience from being police officers on the civilian side.
"(Hestrand) brings a lot of knowledge from past units - all the way from foreign militaries to being a part of different conflicts," said Sgt. Jeffery McCoy, a PSD team member, a native of Riverside, Calif. "I trust him one thousand percent to watch my back. He's just an all-around good guy."
Hestrand joined the Swedish Army in 1987 after graduating high school in Gothenburg, Sweden. In Sweden, one year of military service is mandatory. But one year of service was not enough for the six-foot-two Marine.
"I wanted to become an officer," said Hestrand. "So I completed (Officer Candidate School) in 1988 and became an infantry officer."
According to Hestrand, the Swedish Army is much different than the Marine Corps. There are no noncommissioned officers, so small-unit leadership, training and daily operations with the troops rely heavily on junior officers.
"If you think the Marine Corps doesn't have any money, the Swedish Army has none at all," Hestrand said with a chuckle.
In 1992, after completing his service to the Swedish Army, he received a scholarship for football to attend Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.
"I figured I come out for a year, come back to Sweden and tell everyone I played college ball," he said. "But, I liked it, so another year passed, then another and another," until he received his U.S. citizenship in 2002.
He graduated from college with a double major in health and physical education in 1996. Soon after, he began a job at St. John's Military School in Salina, Kansas, teaching physical education and health classes.
"It was 2001. I was watching some military show on the Discovery Channel," said Hestrand. "I thought the military bug was out of my system, but I guess not. I joined the Marine Corps Reserve. I went to boot camp the summer of 2001."
At the time, Hestrand was 33 years old.
He looked into becoming a commissioned officer, but the Corps said he was too old. Despite his age, Hestrand, now 36, still achieves the highest score possible in the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test. He runs three miles under 18 minutes, pumps out more than 20 dead-hang pull-ups and completes more than 100 crunches in less than two minutes.
During the beginning stages of OIF, Hestrand's ammunition unit, based out of Topeka, Kansas, was activated. The unit was sent to Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Hestrand's unit was deactivated after major combat operations concluded in May; however, he wanted no part of demobilizing.
Hestrand began asking around to find which billet openings were needed in Iraq. A forward observer was needed in Baghdad. Hestrand had the experience - he got the job, and deployed in June 2003.
Reflecting on redeploying so soon after returning from Iraq, Hestrand simply said, "Call me old fashioned, but one of the reasons I love the Marine Corps is the hard work ethic - I truly respect that."