By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sept. 11, 2001, changed the course of countless lives, including the life of a Minnesota college student, who answered the call to service.

“On September 11th, I was a freshman in college at Creighton University,” former Air Force Cpt. Billy Boland recalled.

The Mendota Heights native thought residents in his dorm were watching a movie that September morning.

“The first thing that went through my mind was wow, he’s watching the same movie the people downstairs were. That’s when it hit me, this is a live event and something I never thought would happen in the U.S.,” he said.

Boland’s father and grandfather were both Air Force pilots. Yet, until that moment, he hadn’t considered military service.

As a college student, he pledged to do what he could to keep it from happening again.

“Those things are not supposed to happen here and to us,” he said.

From the ROTC program at Creighton, Boland commissioned into the Air Force, helping run the surge into Iraq from an aerial port sending people and cargo in 2008.

By 2011, he was in Afghanistan where Boland marked 10 years since the Twin Towers fell.

“He has his first nephew to be born in December and he will miss that,” his mom, Laurie Boland, told WCCO in 2011.

A cardboard cutout took his place at his sister’s wedding.

Back in Afghanistan, Boland helped train the Afghan army.

He left the country with some fond memories, like the night Americans taught the Afghan soldiers to make s’mores.

“We had a whole bunch of marshmallows at the end of it, so I tossed one of them a marshmallow to just eat it and he looked at me like I was crazy like this isn’t cooked yet I can’t just eat this marshmallow,” he joked.

Still, it is impossible to ignore the dark moments. In 2011, an Afghan pilot ambushed his NATO, base killing nine fellow American service members.

Boland left the military in 2013 for the corporate world, got married, and started a family of his own.

He admits the toll of recent weeks, watching one of his missions end in chaos and tragedy.

“We’re that global beacon of hope, and right now that beacon isn’t looking so strong,” Boland said.

Twenty years of unmeasurable sacrifice that transformed a young man and a Minnesota family.

“It changes you. It’s created the person I am today,” he said.

Boland, now calls North Carolina home, still makes it back to Minnesota for work and to visit family.

He says the state will always have a special place in his heart.

Liz Collin