Approaching his graduation from Kokomo High School, Blake Dahl had to consider what he wanted to do after earning his diploma.
As he puts it, he was one of those kids who was fully capable of anything, but never really applied themselves. He was looking for a challenge. It was 2002, fresh after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He decided to join the Marine Corps.
His grandfather, who served in the Air Force for 26 years and toured in Korea and Vietnam, was glad Dahl joined the military. With a chuckle, Dahl admitted his grandfather was a bit disappointed he didn’t join the Air Force.
After training in San Diego and a bit of follow-up school, his enlistment with the Marine Corps Reserve passed quickly.
After his initial enlistment, he decided to take a step away for a while and continue his education. Dahl went to law school at Valparaiso University and became a lawyer — it was something he wanted to do when he was younger.
Comparatively speaking, Dahl said Marine Corps basic training was more difficult than law school. Neither one should be taken lightly, though, and where someone is at in life can have a big impact on how they deal with either situation.
Basic training for the Marine Corps and Army combines heaps of mental and physical stress.
“When you’re 18 years old and scared out of your mind, and you’ve never been away from home before, that’s probably the most traumatic thing you can go through,” Dahl said. “Plus, they’re pounding you into a way of thinking, so it’s pretty tough.”
The discipline that was instilled in Dahl during basic training, as well as his ability to work under pressure, helped him get through law school.
“I definitely wasn’t the smartest law student but I was probably one of the more disciplined,” he said.
Law school sucks out your soul, though, Dahl added with a bit of laughter.
“They’re very comparable,” he said.
Dahl is a general practice lawyer and public defender. He works on quite a few criminal defense and civil rights cases. It isn’t rare for him to help veterans or active armed forces — he often works those cases pro bono.
“I definitely have a passion for that,” Dahl said. “Helping out military guys and veterans, too.”
Shortly after finishing law school, realizing he was getting older, Dahl decided he still wanted to serve his country.
He considered his options before finally deciding to join the Army National Guard. He’s been with the National Guard since 2013.
“What attracted me most to the guard was the fact that you get state service and federal service,” Dahl said.
In other words, he could be mobilized to serve his country overseas and help Americans at home during emergencies.
“It’s actually giving back to your direct local community,” Dahl said.
He continued to practice law in Valparaiso until 2019, when he was called to deploy in Operation Spartan Shield with the 38th Infantry Division.
Serving as an aide-de-camp, he helped a Deputy Commanding General establish military partners throughout the Middle East. They traveled frequently, with Kuwait serving as a home base.
A U.S. drone strike killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Iranian drones crashed into Saudi Arabian oil refineries during Dahl’s deployment.
“We were there during a pretty interesting time,” Dahl said.
He also met his wife Sara during the deployment. She was on her third deployment with the National Guard, serving in Kuwait as an intelligence officer who acted as a liaison between military branches.
Whenever Dahl came back to Kuwait, he did his best to catch a meal or go on a run with Sara.
They even decided to participate in the Norwegian Foot March together, a military endurance test where participants march 18.6 miles in 4 hours with a loaded rucksack.
“I thought he was cute,” Sara said of her first impression of Dahl. “I just wanted to figure him out.”
They waited until they were stateside to really get into a relationship, though.
“When you’re deployed, there’s no space or time for romance,” Dahl said. He later added, “We made it look more like a friendship. But I think some people knew, some people definitely knew.”
They returned to Indiana during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and spent part of lockdown together. When Dahl was offered a public defender job in Kokomo, he happily accepted.
He purchased a house, moved in with Sara and eventually asked her to marry him.
While they don’t always agree on military-related topics, Sara and Blake said it’s nice to be married to someone who understands the difficult commitments that come with serving.
They’re both captains. Blake is still with the 38th Infantry Division, Sara serves with the 38th Sustainment Brigade.
“Anybody who has a desire to serve both their local communities and their country, consider joining the National Guard,” Dahl said. “It’s really a good opportunity to change your life.”
Sara chimed in, adding the training National Guard members go through often helps secure civilian jobs.
No place like home
Dahl said Howard County differs from other parts of the nation when it comes to honoring veterans and active duty Armed Forces.
Local businesses are friendly toward the Armed Forces, veterans monuments are scattered throughout Kokomo and numerous organizations — Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Howard County Vietnam Veterans Organization, to name a few — help support people who serve their nation.
He and Sara try to help the local organizations whenever they can.
Dahl also appreciates the Veterans Treatment Court, which gives a second chance to veterans struggling with mental health and drug addiction. He serves as the court’s public defender.
“I think Kokomo is pretty unique because you don’t see a lot of that in other places,” Dahl said.
With Veterans Day around the corner, Dahl said he uses the holiday as an extra opportunity to celebrate those who have served. He noted some gave more to their country than he or Sara have.
“Veterans Day is really recognizing the service, commitment, the sacrifice people go through,” Dahl said. “When you put on the uniform and you raise your right hand, you’re saying ‘I’m willing to protect the lives of those around me from threats, whether it be foreign or domestic.’”