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Knutsen loves helping teens learn lessons in EU High JROTC
Karl Knutsen times an East Union High JROTC cadet doing pull ups. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
Karl Knutsen bounds into his classroom on a daily basis, eager for the new day that lies ahead.

And even though he’s served as a  JROTC Instructor at East Union High School for almost 15 years, he still cherishes every day that he gets to set foot on campus and work to make a difference in the lives of the students that filter though his classroom.

For the retired U.S. Army First Sergeant, each and every day is different.  It’s what he loves about the job.

“There really aren’t two days that are the same, and even though I’ve been doing this for 15 years, things change from year to year as well,” Knutsen said. “That’s what I love about this program. The curriculum changes every year, and we get new students in the program that change the entire makeup.

“It’s really something that’s enjoyable, and it’s something that I love.”

Knutsen, a native of Merced, enlisted in the Army at age 20 in 1976 as an infantry solider. He was shipped to basic training and eventually infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia. With his first duty post in Alaska as part of a recon unit, Knutsen fell in love with the structure and the experiences that the Army provided.

As he got closer to the end of his four-year commitment, Knutsen opted to reenlist because of what was at the time a weak economy – changing his specialty from infantry to construction engineer.

That move would eventually become a defining moment in a military career that spanned 20 years and one day.

“I really didn’t want to reenlist, but there weren’t a whole lot of options at the time and I figured that what I had going in the Army was pretty good,” Knutsen said. “I had no idea that I would end up spending 20 years doing what I was doing, and I’m grateful for the opportunities that the Army provided me and I’m proud of my service.”

He was discharged in 1996, and began searching for a job in Oklahoma – his last military post. While going to find out about available jobs, an advertising searching for JROTC instructors caught his eye. Before he knew it he had found a career path that would bring him to Manteca.

“The way that I saw it, as a Drill Sergeant and First Sergeant I had a lot of experience educating soldiers and teaching people during my military service,” Knutsen said. “This just seemed like a natural offshoot of that, and I was eager to get into my first job when I decided that this was something I wanted to do.”

The only problem was, once he was certified he had to submit applications and wait to be contacted by a school that has an opening in the program.

After applying to schools in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri and Georgia, he got a phone call from Manteca asking him if he’d be interested in interviewing for a job that had opened up.

Hailing from Merced and having family from Elk Grove helped perk his interest, but he didn’t know what to expect when he came out for his initial visit.

“I met with then-Principal Linda Frost and Sierra Principal Rick Arucan (now retired), and I honestly favored going to the new school at the time,” Knutsen said. “But when I got a phone call from Linda Frost three days later asking if I wanted to be a part of the staff at East Union, I hung up the phone and drove straight down.”

And the rest, they say, is history.

Over his tenure at East Union Knutsen has turned the Lancer Battalion into one of the most respected in the area – instilling patience, direction, and drive into the students that come into his program and take it seriously.

Even though the military undertones are significant in the JROTC program, Knutsen considers the skills that he teaches in the classroom to be life-specific rather than training somebody to enter the armed forces.

“That’s what I love about the curriculum is that I get to teach these kids that they have control of their own lives,” Knutsen said. “Whether it’s making sure that people are doing what they’re supposed to on the Drill Team, or teaching about finances and how to take pride in one’s appearance, these are all lessons that these kids can take on to whatever road they choose.”