Community Connections: Profile of former Crookston Times intern Nick Proulx

Mike Christopherson
Nick Proulx

What year did you work in the Crookston Times newsroom?

Gosh, I want to say it was the summer of 2009, right before I went to college; I changed my chosen major from civil engineering to journalism as a result. It feels like an eternity ago.

What was your favorite part of your experience at the Times?

The best part of that job was interacting with people. Whether I was in the newsroom or around town, someone had a story to tell in our small town. The challenge was getting people to open up a bit more and make my job of putting it to print easy. It’s perspective I’ve carried forward with me.

What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself and/or the biggest life lesson that you took with you when you left the Times?

This is a great question, and I’ll apologize up front if my answer is a bit abstract. I learned that any situation is what you make of it. I could do my homework on a subject before hopping in my Pontiac to interview someone, and a few hours later I might have a great product; alternatively, if all I did was punch the timecard twice a day and hammer away on a keyboard in-between without much more thought, I’d have a garbage in — garbage out scenario.

On the other side of the pen and paper, it was the same for the people I’d be interacting with. Some people would quietly go about their day, which is more than fine, and yet you could find people in our part of the country trying hard to make a big splash. I’d found a lot of go-getters when I wrote in Fargo during my college years.

What have you been doing since? Give us an update on where you’re at, what you’re doing, who you’re with, etc.

I’m glad someone is forcing me to spell out what I’ve been up to; sometimes it feels like I’m spinning my wheels.

After leaving the Times I loaded my Grand Am and went to the big city of Fargo, where I studied journalism at NDSU and entered the Air Force ROTC program. Two weeks after I completed my undergrad and earned my commission, I entered Active Duty and drove to Texas to start my current career. I graduated pilot training and earned my wings on 7 November 2014, and it remains the one achievement I am most proud for.

I then went on to fly the B-52H, spending just over a year in Shreveport, LA doing odds and ends before class start date and then learned to fly that absolute monster of an aircraft. I spent just over two years in Minot, ND operationally flying the mighty BUFF (the colloquial name for that fine old jet — look up the acronym when the children are away). During that time I deployed to the Middle East and spent seven months doing my part over there.

Then at the end of September 2018, I once again packed that little red car and drove to Texas, this time to learn how to teach young officers like I once was how to fly. I’ve been living in Del Rio, TX for almost two years now, and just down the road at Laughlin AFB I’m an instructor pilot in the T-38C. It’s the Air Force’s aircraft of choice for producing new fighter and bomber pilots.

I have just over a year left at this current job and one more assignment left on my service commitment. I’ve been spending time lately trying to figure out what my next move is. Up to this point, I’ve always been told where to go and when. Not knowing my immediate future is strange new territory for me.

Oh, and I finally bought a new car two years ago.

Nick Proulx

You went on to study journalism at North Dakota State University, but your life and career really “took off” after that. Are you an adrenaline junkie? Did you always want to be in the service and fly?

I wouldn’t say I’m a junkie; I enjoy spending an entire Saturday playing Nintendo 64 just like anyone else. But it’s also true that I can no longer get my kicks riding a jetski on the lake.

Joining the Air Force was a very spur-of-the-moment thing I decided on during my senior year of high school. I’ve always thought flying was fascinating and I figured this is something I could only do while I was young. I also firmly believe that serving your nation in some capacity is a noble thing to do, and I felt capable of doing this line of work. So, all the pieces sort of fell into place.

While I’ve had my fair share of bad days, I keep moving forward with a sense of gratitude. I get paid to fly, I’ve been doing plenty of it, I get to see blue sky any day I get airborne, and now I do it in a jet with two afterburners. Plenty of people dream of being a pilot in the world’s greatest air force, and I get to be one every day of the week; that would be one heck of a thing for me to complain about. Even with all the bad days, I’ll never regret this choice so long as I live.

What are you passionate about these days?

I’ve never been the number one person at anything; with that in mind, I think I do my best work when I convince students who are in a rough spot that it’s okay to be imperfect. Our flying environment is constantly focused on being the very best and pointing out where people fall short — it’s simply the nature of the business. This can take a toll on a person over time, and occasionally students wonder if they deserve to be here. I offer to them that the seat at the table is currently filled by that guy or gal I’m talking to, so that decision has long since been made. Lord knows I’ve made every mistake in the book, and they still let me show up to work.

If I can get students to quit playing mind games on themselves before strapping into the jet, they tend to perform much better in the air.

Tell us how the pandemic impacted you/continues to impact you…

I’ve had the same experiences as everyone else regarding cancelled plans and such. But the pilot pipeline had to keep flowing because of its critical role producing the Air Force pilots. So, we masked up like everyone else to get the mission done. All things considered though, I still got to go to work with great people and cash a paycheck twice a month. As such, I’ve been very fortunate throughout this ordeal.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I try to turn my brain off on the weekend. I’m plenty comfortable spending time alone, so I have no problem finding a way to recharge when need via video games, music or even the occasional book. But I’ll drop everything to spend time with coworkers outside of work, whether in the great outdoors or just a backyard. I try hard during those times to avoid talking shop to instead build a meaningful relationship with the friends I sweat Monday through Friday with.

Look in your life’s crystal ball: Where do you think/hope you’ll be 10 years from now, and what do you think/hope you’ll be doing?

I hope to be either back home or somewhere near it. I took for granted plenty of good people and things when I left home all those years ago, and we’re all getting older and further apart every day. I said above that I don’t regret signing up for this wild ride, but I’d like to be less of a stranger to my siblings’ children.

I’ve been trying to find contacts who spray crops, since it looks to me like a fantastic use an airplane as equipment instead of transport. It also appears to be more involved and intense flying operations than anything I’ve been a part of — no joke. Flying for me is easy because I get my marching orders and hop into a jet that’s ready to go thanks to our maintainers. The crop duster owner-operators throughout the country do it all on their own and make it look easy — it’s absolute incredible!