Ben Fischer took a different route: soldier, missionary then student

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Living in wooden huts with tin roofs in 125 degrees Fahrenheit in Afghanistan was something Manti native Ben Fischer will never forget. Through life’s unexpected turns Fischer did not take the normal route most would expect to take from high school to college.

Fischer is now a sophomore physics and astronomy major here at BYU, but his road to college was far from ordinary.

Upon graduation from high school Fischer had thought about joining the military. Since a little boy, he had always wanted to join the navy. However, an unexpected call from a marine recruiter changed his course. The marine recruiter had told Fischer that if he joined the navy, he could end up scrubbing barnacles off the side of the ship. After providing different career options for Fischer and describing the challenge of being a marine, at the last minute Fischer changed his mind and joined the marines.

“If something’s harder, I’m going to do it,” Fischer said.

Fischer first attempted 13 weeks of boot camp in San Diego, Calif. He felt that it was more mentally than physically challenging due to the constant commands and being yelled at. Fischer remembers being told what to do on everything; instructors would yell at him at simple tasks like putting socks on and getting into bed.

Fischer with his gear and guitar

“Always do (things) as fast as you can and yell as loud as you can,” said Fischer.

There was an instructor that Fischer recalls who would always give him a hard time. The instructor could not pronounce Fischer’s last name and called him “Fitcher” and would yell, “I know you are smiling where are you?” The instructor would want to punish Fischer for always smiling.

Although boot camps are not known for being enjoyable. Fischer says when he looks back on it, he is now able to laugh about it. He felt a brotherhood among the other marines.

“Nobody’s different there, everyone has same clothes and same hair cut,” Fischer said. “We are all best friend, all suffered together.”

After boot camp, Fischer was faced with the decision to go on a mission or school. Family and friends encouraged him to go on a mission but Fischer was now 21 and had only taken a few classes.

Despite the temptation to start school, Fischer chose a mission. After Fischer received his call in March 2008 to serve in the Rio de Janeiro North Mission, it was denied by the marines because they needed to deploy him. Fischer spent the next year training for deployment and was deployed to Afghanistan March 2009.

Fischer spent five months deployed in Afghanistan, but it was not what he had expected.

“(I thought) someone was going to shoot at me all the time and fighting all the time,” Fischer said.

Instead he was able to help serve the Afghan people and during free time he learned the guitar and took Physics 123 from BYU Independent Studying. He helped put a water pump in for the locals and noticed his expectations of the Afghan people were also different.

“They liked us because we helped them,” Fischer said.

For a couple of weeks in Afghanistan, Fischer was in charge of physical training for the Afghan police force. One of his most memorable moments was a mission to blow up all the weapons that had been captured.

“(It was a) huge explosion,” Fischer said. “It had a mushroom cloud and everything.”

In October, Fischer returned home. Upon his return from deployment Fischer was faced again with the decision of mission or school.

Fischer’s brother Casten said he remembers when Ben joined the military and remembers it being a difficult decision for Ben to choose mission or school.

“It was a big struggle for him,” Casten said.

It was not only a difficult decision for Ben, but some of his friends also had mixed feelings. Daniel Cottam, a freshman from Wales who is an undeclared major was a close friend of Fischer’s. With Fischer back from boot camp, Cottam was looking forward to spending time with him.

Elder Fischer

“For selfish reasons, I didn’t want him to go again,” Cottam said.

Fischer made his final decision to go on a mission and was called to the Victoria Brazil Mission. Due to life’s unexpected turns, however, he spent six months in the Fort Worth, Texas Mission because of visa issues.

Trevor Bateman, freshman from Palm Desert, Calif. was Fischer’s mission companion for three months while Fischer was in Texas.

“I admire him a lot for what he did,” Bateman said. “He put country first, put God first, then went to school.”

Fischer applied to BYU after his mission and realized life was quite different from the military and mission but was ready to start his education.

“I knew that when I got back, I had to readjust to a different lifestyle,” Fischer said.

Fischer remembers coming back from his mission and readjusting quickly, which he attributes to having had to adjust after deployment. Life does not always turn out the way someone plans it, but it does seem to turn out.

“In a way (it) feels good to be back at school again,” Fisher said. “(I’m) really excited to learn and be with my peers.”

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