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A modern-day good Samaritan -- DL national Guard member honored for helping stranded travelers

SPC. JOSH PETERSON,DETROIT LAKES, a member of the North Dakota Armyu National Guard's 188th Army Band, plays guitar for Rylee Hanlan, a kindergarten student from Rolla, at a Dec. 5 concert with the Three Time Rule ensemble at Rolla Public School.

One cold and blustery winter morning in Fargo, Army Specialist Josh Peterson was helping his fellow soldiers in the North Dakota National Guard 188th Army Band get ready for the band's upcoming Music in the Schools tour.

He and a fellow guardsman were asked to go out and run a few errands around town -- a trip that was only expected to take about an hour.

But that was before Josh and his friend decided to stop and aid a stranded traveler along the highway.

"We didn't make it two miles out of our Army headquarters when we saw a vehicle on the side of the road with its hood up," Josh said.

"It was just after a snowstorm had hit, and the roads were kind of icy... it was pretty cold outside."

The couple inside the vehicle turned out to be making a trip from Canada down to Arizona for a visit with family.

"We brought them to the nearest gas station, along with their dog," Josh said, noting that they also contacted local law enforcement to let them know about the stranded vehicle, providing their cell phone number to the couple in case further assistance was needed.

Josh also discovered two more stranded vehicles on the road during his trek around town, and even though the drivers of both of those vehicles said help was on the way, he and his companion waited with them until someone actually arrived on the scene.

"What was supposed to be an hour's run turned out to be a three-hour trip," Peterson said.

He didn't think about it again until about a week ago, when his name was called at the end of a training drill session.

It was then that Peterson learned he had been awarded an Army Achievement Medal for his efforts in aiding stranded travelers on Jan. 3.

"Someone found out about the story and nominated me (for the award)," Josh said, noting that he was very surprised by the news.

His family back home in Detroit Lakes was equally surprised, albeit happy to learn of his achievement.

"My mom, as moms usually are, was pretty overjoyed," Josh said, noting that she was the first person he called with the news.

His parents, Rev. David and Joy Peterson, still live in Detroit Lakes, where they both work at First Lutheran Church -- David as pastor, and Joy as director of children's services, including Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.

The oldest of four siblings, Josh graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in 2005. He spent two years studying music at Bemidji State University, before transferring to North Dakota State in Fargo four years ago.

Josh is now just a couple months away from completing his degree in music education at NDSU, and is spending the semester student teaching at Pelican Rapids.

Because Detroit Lakes is a little closer to Pelican Rapids than Fargo, Josh has been spending more time at home with his parents, to shorten his commute.

He is also in the midst of finalizing plans for his June wedding to fellow NDSU senior Mariah Featherly.

"We met three years ago, on a bike ride called the Habitat 500," Josh said. "It's a seven-day, 500-mile bike tour for Habitat for Humanity, where each rider has to raise a minimum of $900 in pledges to participate.

"The nerves haven't hit yet," he said with regard to his upcoming nuptials. "We both graduate in May, so we've had to focus on school until then.

"Pretty much all the plans that need to be done now, are finished."

As for his stint with the 188th Army Band, Josh said it's pretty much been a dream gig for him.

"I think it's the best thing that's every happened to me," he said. "I get to serve my country, play music and at the same time earn a little bit of a living doing it.

"I always knew a military band was a place where I would like to start a career in music," he continued. "After I transferred to NDSU I received an e-mail from a recruiter in New York who said there's an Army band in Fargo that had a couple of openings."

As it happened, one of the open slots was for a saxophone player -- "which is my main instrument," Josh said.

It wasn't too long after his audition that he learned he had the job.

For the past three years, Josh has been traveling to venues all across North Dakota to perform with the band.

"It's great to get out to all these little towns in North Dakota, to travel and perform and at the same time, let people know there's more to the Guard than just the infantry."

Not that there's anything wrong with infantry -- in fact, Josh's younger brother Daniel is in the midst of completing his ROTC training at NDSU.

"He's definitely going the more military route, while I'm sticking to music," Josh said.

Ultimately, his goal is to become a music teacher -- he's already begun looking for openings at several Minnesota schools, from Crosby-Ironton to Virginia, Duluth, Grand Forks and the Twin Cities.

"They're spread out quite a bit, but the jobs are definitely out there," he said.

He's also enjoying his current stint at Pelican Rapids, working with Sean Fitzsimmons in teaching band to grades 5-12.

"They have a very rich and strong program over there," Josh said.

"It's been amazing."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454