Aaron Nelson’s career path has hardly been conventional.
The Utah National Guard specialist’s journey from baseball to law school, and now to the military, reflects a drive to find a balance between passion and practicality.
“I always had an interest in the military,” said Nelson, 31. “I always wanted to challenge myself to do it. I remember even in high school when the recruiters would come, I’d always go talk to them. It was always on my mind, I guess.”
But Nelson had other goals at the time. The Grantsville man played baseball in college, first for Snow College and then for Southern Utah University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design in 2006. From there, Nelson enrolled in Western New England University School of Law in Springfield, Mass.
The decision was partially credited to inspiration from the career his father, Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, had in law, as well as an interest and desire to better understand the subject.
“I thought it would be a good fit for me,” he said. “I always loved to read and always had an interest in the law. The law is so important, so I wanted to have a deeper understanding, I guess, of how that worked. It was a really good education. It’s hard work, but the methods you learn in law school are really helpful in a lot of areas.”
After he graduated from law school in 2011, Nelson said he became interested again in the military, fueled by recruiters from various branches of the armed forces who came to the school.
“So I finished law school and said, ‘Well, this is my chance, I’m getting up there in years, so it’s now or never,’ and decided to take the opportunity after school before I got onto my next path,” Nelson said. “It turned out to be a good time to do it.”
However, his desire to join the military was tempered with wanting to stay near home. Finally, he struck a balance in getting an open spot in the 214th Forward Support Company of the Utah National Guard, which is based in Tooele. He graduated from basic and secondary training earlier this month. Nelson has been assigned as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, an area in which he has little experience, but is excited to learn.
“It was a brand-new skill, something that I never really picked up before, so I thought I’ll go learn something brand new and see what I can offer the military,” he said. “I know that down the road, as long as I continue to be a good soldier, there’s going to be opportunities to go in any direction that I decide that I want to. That’s one of the great things about the military is just the number of opportunities. There’s so much opportunity in the military. If you’re willing to go in and work hard, there’s any number of things you can do.”
Another benefit he found was rediscovering the kind of teamwork he enjoyed while playing baseball, as well as a new purpose for the skills he learned in law school.
“I feel like my life experiences helped me, helped me kind of stand up under some of the strain and rigors of training,” said Nelson. “I guess it was more familiar for me to get up early in the morning every day and push myself to places where I hadn’t been. You have the full spectrum — you had guys my age and all the way down. That was one thing I really missed after baseball was the camaraderie and being part of a team, so that was one thing that I really enjoyed in the military, was to have that sense of purpose and belonging and working as a group to accomplish a goal.”
Being a member of the Utah National Guard also means he can have a quiet life outside of being a soldier, he said. Although his path in civilian life is still unclear, Nelson said he is planning on taking the Utah Bar Exam so he can practice law in the state, but would also like to spend time developing other interests, including music, coaching and teaching — another area refreshed by his experience in the military while he interacted with young soldiers.
“It’s a scary time for kids that age — they’re just out of high school and they’re jumping into the military and I was able to give some good support, I guess, and some good advice, because I can remember the uncertainties that I had when I was that age,” he said. “I’ve considered looking for a teaching opportunity to teach and work on my music and try to hone that, and then prepare for the bar exam and do that sometime in the near future and see what opportunities are there. But I’ve really found a passion for teaching school and working with kids.”
Whether that passion becomes a career is still up in the air, as is much of the future, he said. But then, Nelson said, that can be exciting, too.
“I guess it’s always kind of a tossup — do you do what you’re going to enjoy and what makes you happy, or is it time to really go for a more serious, more challenging career?” he said. “I do find a lot of stimulation in the law, so that’s on the docket, but I probably won’t rush into it. It’s coming together. There are still question marks. Now that I’m back, it’s time to find a job, but it’s exciting. It’s exciting to have all of those possibilities and decisions coming up.”