American Ethanol Spring 2017 - Page 25

Honoring the Meaning of Memorial Day Soldier reflects on family, fuel, and freedom From Josh Willis’ vantage point on his family’s ranch near the tiny southwest Kansas town of Kismet (population 459), a quiet, country life suits him just fine. It’s a welcome transition for the Bronze Star recipient, whose eight years of active duty with the U.S. Army took him from Iraq to El Salvador. His time in the Middle East left an indelible impres- sion on Captain Willis, 32. Not only did it influence his views on the value of homegrown fuel and ener- gy independence, but also it shaped his perspective of Memorial Day. “There’s a day to honor veterans in November, but Memorial Day is for the fallen,” said Willis, who con- tinues to serve as a captain in the Kansas National Guard. “I had close friends I lost, and so do many others who have served. Memorial Day is about honoring them.” Reducing our dependence on foreign oil Military service has always been meaningful to Willis, who grew up in the western United States and developed a love of agriculture and the outdoors on a small ranch in northern Utah. “My grandpa was in the Air Force, and I always wanted to serve in the military,” said Willis, whose Army training has taken him from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Fort Riley, Kansas. Now that he and his wife, Katie, are rais- ing their three chil- dren on his family’s Kansas ranch, Willis relies daily on skills he developed in the military, from discipline to problem solving. All this comes in handy as he raises cattle, corn, wheat, soybeans, sorghum, and alfalfa with his father, Tom, and cousin, Dallin Willis. Some of the family’s crops go into the production of renewable fuels. “Ethanol reduces America’s reli- ance on foreign oil,” said Willis, whose father serves as CEO of Conestoga Energy Partners, LLC, which operates ethanol plants in Kansas and Texas. Willis gained a new appreciation for energy inde- pendence during his service in Iraq in 2011 — a pivotal time when he earned the Bronze Star. Willis will never forget those days or his fellow soldiers, especially those who didn’t return home. “So many Americans have given their lives for our freedom. Memorial Day is a time to honor their sacrifice.” According to the USDA, ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emission by 43% compared to conventional gasoline. Top: Bronze Star recipient, Willis, on duty in Middle East. Bottom: Back home in Kismet, Kansas. SPRING 2017 25