A Desire to Serve
For First Lieutenant Ethan Maertz, one reason to join the armed forces stands out as a driving factor, and that reason is service. With his father serving in the public ministry as a WELS pastor and his three siblings now serving as WELS school teachers, Ethan often thought about attending Martin Luther College to pursue a career in public ministry himself. He knew he wanted to choose a career path that would allow him to serve others, but it was talking to military service members in his church congregation which led him to consider a different type of service than preaching or teaching.
With hopes of travel and the possibility of becoming a pilot, Ethan’s interest in joining the Air Force grew. Maertz was able to connect with service members who shared their experiences of being in the military, and what it was like to attend a military service academy. With most of these influences being airmen, Ethan was persuaded to pursue a career in the Air Force as his branch of choice and began the process of applying for nomination to the United States Air Force Academy, north of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
After a long and intense application process, physical fitness tests, and interviews, Ethan was nominated by a South Dakota senator and offered an appointment to the Academy. After graduating from Great Plains Lutheran High School in 2016, Ethan left the following June to attend Basic Cadet Training, the first step in his journey through the Air Force Academy. In regards to his first exposure to basic training Maertz stated, “It starts with people in your face and screaming. It’s terrifying. I remember being sore in muscles I didn’t even know I had. It’s both physically and mentally draining.” Maertz recalls eating three meals per day with perfect posture while staring at the emblem at the top of his plate, taking bites no larger than “seven chews”, and always setting his fork down on the table before chewing. Ethan also remembers learning to ask for things at the table in a proper way, among other customs.
About these seemingly excessive requirements and training, Ethan stated, “You’re not doing push-ups to get stronger. It’s about getting to your lowest point and seeing how you react. It forces you to rely on the team and makes you realize you need to ask for help.” Ethan described one of his close friends at the Academy, who came from a strong military background and seemed to adjust more easily to the rigors of basic training than many. With a laugh he recalled, “It was 4 AM, and we had to get dressed in 90 seconds. I was fumbling with my shoes, and he came over and tied my other shoe for me.” In addition to military culture, Ethan says another adjustment was getting used to being in a place with so much excellence. “Everyone there was a top performer at their high school, valedictorians and team captains. Now you get to the Academy, and everyone is a top performer. It’s an eye opener.”
Maertz added that this adjustment was quickly overcome, especially thanks to the close friendships he made while at the Air Force Academy. Ethan cites a group of close friends, whom he still keeps in contact with online, despite being spread out to different areas of the country including Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, Mississippi, and Nebraska. After graduation and commissioning, it was the people Ethan met who continued to enrich his experience. After his first year as an officer, a senior noncommissioned officer requested that Maertz be the officer to re-enlist him for his last commitment before retirement. Ethan remembers this as one of his proudest moments so far, and was humbled to carry out such a respected task. New friendships continue to grow at his current base as well, and Ethan says, “The people are definitely the best part. They make me excited to work every day.”
Maertz currently serves at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Tacoma, WA as the Officer in Charge of Cyber Defense. Working together with a small group, the team uncovers vulnerabilities in the internet network and pushes fixes, constantly working to keep information secure. Ethan has been stationed in WA since June of 2020, aside from attending training school in Mississippi for a 6-month period. Maertz will be flying out for his first deployment to South Korea in April of this year and looks forward to traveling.
When asked about any religious struggles Ethan has faced in his service so far, Ethan relays the difficulties of serving in a leadership position. “Especially as an officer and sometimes having a higher rank than others, I’m not allowed to instigate conversations about religion. The intention is that someone at a lower rank doesn’t pander towards getting a leg up. Even if people are having those conversations, I feel that I shouldn’t interject. It can be hard to have regular, human conversations about that.” Maertz has been able to have private conversations with close friends at work about his faith, but it is important to be conscious of these conversations so that formal reports and complaints are not filed. Since Ethan does not have regular opportunities to share his faith with others in the workplace, he lets his faith shine through his actions and service to others.
Luckily, Ethan receives great religious support through his home congregation of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Des Moines, WA, about half an hour from Joint Base McChord. It is there that Ethan has developed solid support and connections, including fellow congregation members who attended the Academy or served as Air Force pilots. Maertz is confident that his home church and pastor will be a great resource for him while he is deployed, as well as WELS affiliate churches in South Korea.
Ethan’s commitment to the Air Force will end in 2025, and with it will arrive his decision of whether or not to reenlist. Several factors will determine his decision, many of which are unclear now. No matter what his decision, Ethan mentioned from the beginning that he has a clear goal in mind for after his military service. “Whether it’s 5, 10, or 15 years from now, I want to eventually teach at a WELS school, probably science. Another way to serve.” Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG) strives to support our WELS military service members, veterans, and their families. One resource LMSG offers is scholarships for veterans who wish to attend Martin Luther College and enter into public ministry. This opportunity is just one of the ways LMSG supports those with a desire to serve, just like Ethan.