During his job interview for the maintenance supervisor position at Fort Stevenson State Park, Tyler Modlin told park manager Dick Messerly there are three jobs that make for his ultimate career.
Coaching his beloved Oklahoma Sooners wasn't realistic and becoming a NASCAR driver wasn't an easy field to get into, but by accepting the job at the park, Modlin fulfilled his desire of being outside and working on equipment.
Upon taking the position, Modlin - originally from Maple Grove, Minn. - received some employer-to-employee advice that enabled him to get some coaching experience, even though it wasn't football and it wasn't Oklahoma University.
Garrison American Legion coach Tyler Modlin delivers a pitch during batting practice Tuesday.
"Dick said get involved in the community," Modlin said. "I saw an ad in the paper that said 'baseball coaches needed.' I called (Garrison-Max-Central McLean County American Legion team manager) Sandy Crawford and said, 'Well, my son's playing T-ball. I'd like to coach T-ball or little league, something.' She said they needed an American Legion coach and I said, 'Okay, how old are they?' Well, they're 15 to 18. I'm like, 'Holy cow, that's like the minor leagues.' "
Man of War
Two sleeves of tattoos cover the arms of the Garrison Titans' coach. Some - like the one bearing the name of his oldest son, Damian - have meaning. Others don't.
"That's what happens when you spend too much time on Army posts," Modlin said. "You get those weekend passes, find the local tattoo parlor, have a beer and get a couple."
Modlin was preparing to play linebacker for the University of Minnesota-Morris when he found out he was being deployed to Iraq as an E-5 sergeant with the 2nd Battalion and 136th Infantry of the Minnesota National Guard.
He left for Baghdad in October 2005, eventually participating in "Operation Together Forward," a failed attempt at securing Iraq's capital.
Ten days after he left, Damian was born.
"It was tough, because they wouldn't let me go home to see him," Modlin said. "I would send letters to him and would get pictures of him in the mail. My parents sent videos of him, but it wasn't the same."
After 22 months away from home, Modlin returned to the United States in August 2007. Having spent nearly two years in war-torn Iraq, he had to readjust to being a citizen again, while at the same time becoming a father.
"It's a challenge to go from a combat zone doing combat operations to sitting here talking and seeing your family and friends," he said. "It was a challenge to adjust."
Man and a motor
Upon finishing his military service, Modlin returned to the University of North Dakota to complete the social science degree he started before transferring to Minnesota-Morris.
While there, Modlin pursued his passion for racing. He bought a Wissota Midwest Modified car in 2009 and made three runs that year at River Cities Speedway, runs he said "didn't go well."
In 2010, Modlin made a full-time run at the track, racing every Friday while also making trips to several speedways in Minnesota and earning the series' rookie of the year award. That year, a second son - Christian - was born.
Modlin finally got his degree in May 2011 - two kids, a tour overseas and nearly eight years after he first stepped foot on campus.
"I was so excited because I remember my first class at UND and how I changed in seven or eight years," Modlin said. "I was happy I had completed it. I closed one chapter and opened another."
After a short stint in the operations department at UND monitoring heating, security and cooling on campus, Tyler Modlin began his job at Fort Stevenson State Park in March. His position as maintenance supervisor consists of multiple duties. In addition to overseeing the maintenance staff, Modlin is tasked with fixing equipment such as tractors or lawnmowers if they break down.
"He's not afraid to get in there and work at it and try to figure it out himself, too," said Dick Messerly, the park's manager. "He's not really somebody who needs to be told what to do all the time. He sees what needs to be done and he gets the job done."
Modlin is able to use his Wissota Midwest Modified car in IMCA Sport Modified races at Nodak Speedway each Sunday. With 160 points, Modlin is ninth in the track's standings.
In the Garrison community, Modlin is mostly known for his position as Garrison American Legion coach. He took the job without knowing any of the athletes and with zero coaching experience.
But that hasn't slowed his Titans down. With a record of 12-2, Garrison is beating some of Class B's best teams, including a June 25 sweep of Crosby, who entered the doubleheader unbeaten.
"He knows that we're men and we do our job and he trusts us to do our job," first baseman Alex Bendickson said.