It’s certainly not uncommon for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents—especially in military families. In fact, military children are twice as likely as their civilian counterparts to join as adults. Recently separated U.S. Army veteran Colter Kautzmann is no exception. The Montana native was born in Bozeman, where his dad spent three years teaching and coaching high schoolers and his mom worked as the assistant director of the Montana State University Alumni Association. He was introduced to the military at a young age when his dad returned to MSU as an AFROTC cadet after watching a Thunderbird airshow. Colter would eventually make the same decision to enter the military, but not before developing a passion for competitive golf that would shape much of his future.
A self-proclaimed military brat, Colter spent much of his childhood in quite unlikely places. The family’s first assignment was Germany. “We probably moved 14 or 15 times over the 20 years that my dad was in the military,” he explains. “But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. We lived in Hawaii for a couple years, all over the U.S., even in Egypt.” It was during that time that Colter was introduced to golf at the age of 14. “Dad was finishing up his remaining few months in Egypt, and my mom took me out with a friend to play a shorter course—a par 67 executive course,” recalls Colter, who took to the sport quickly. “My parents saw the potential and they saw that I enjoyed playing, but they had a different way of approaching things with me. Lots of junior golfers had been playing since they were toddlers—so I was a little behind, and they made me work for it. I started out with an old set of irons and a putter, and they’d say: If you can shoot in the mid-80s, we’ll get you a new driver. Then, if you can shoot in the mid-70s, we’ll get you a new set of clubs.”
But it wasn’t just about instilling discipline and determination; it was about teaching respect for the game and the importance of maintaining grace and composure, even through challenges. “ Dad was a huge fan of David Duval. Duval was so even-keeled—it didn’t matter if he was shooting 80 or 59,” says Colter. “He expected me to play and behave the same whether I was having a good day on the course or a bad one. That stuck with me, and I learned respect, poise, and composure.”
As a teenager, Colter also earned his pilot’s license and began taking an interest in aviation—but golf held his attention. He competed through high school, winning the Arizona 4A State Championship as a senior. His success on the course landed him a golf scholarship at the University of Idaho. After graduation, Colter competed in local, state, and national tournaments as well as on the mini professional tours. At this point, golf had become a 24-7 occupation. Having met his future wife, Sara, and looking to provide more stability and a future for his soon-to-be family, Colter took a step back. In pursuit of his second passion—aviation—he applied for the Army Warrant Officer Aviation program. It's especially competitive, with few slots, but Colter had an advantage with a pilot's license and a college degree in hand, plus the focus and determination he'd cultivated as a competitive golfer. The Army recognized his talent and, at age 27, Colter started his military career as an Army aviator. With his first assignment set for Germany and his now-expectant wife, Sara, in tow, Colter was officially following in his father’s footsteps in more ways than one.
SERVICE & VALOR
Meanwhile, Colter’s mother had fallen ill. “When I joined, my mom had been diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer called Leiomyosarcoma,” he explains. “She had been fighting it on and off for a few years and I spent all the time I could with her,” he adds, recalling the three months he lived with her in a cancer center in New Orleans before leaving for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood.
After training, Colter received his wings and was assigned to Germany as a UH-60 Medevac pilot. His unit was charged with weekly Medevac rotations, overseeing high-risk training missions at Germany’s Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas, where his company worked alongside NATO forces. The work was demanding and challenging; crews worked a one-week-on, one-week-off schedule and had to be prepared to respond to anything. “The military does phenomenal safety training,” notes Colter, “but that training involves risk and can be very dangerous. We had everything from jumpers getting stuck in trees to Humvee rollovers and injured soldiers and civilians. We flew real-world, life-saving missions in one of the world's largest training areas.”
After four years in Germany, including missions in the Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, and a fourmonth deployment to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Colter was tasked with a move to a different unit when the news that his mother’s condition had become terminal brought him back to the states. “My mom was a key piece of my life.” He pauses and takes a breath. “My daughter was born in Germany, and the nature of my assignments and deployments meant that she hadn’t spent more than a couple weeks with my mom.” He submitted a formal request to the Army to spend the rest of his time with the military with the Arizona Army Guard, which was quickly granted. The move meant a substantial change of scenery, both for Colter and his family, but it also meant a chance to be close to family and fulfill the desire for his daughter to get to know her grandmother.
BACK IN THE STATES & ON THE COURSE
The return to the U.S. brought something of a change of pace. While most states experience the turbulence of natural disasters, Arizona is quite mild, demanding little in the way of emergency orders. At the same time, a small force meant that Guard members saw a wider variety of missions. “On active duty, my job was solely Medevac missions, but with the Guard, units are somewhat understaffed—so, if you’re available and qualified, you can get sent on just about any mission.”
With a controversial climate at the U.S.-Mexico border, Colter found himself in the cockpit once again, this time facilitating border missions. “We spent a lot of time flying senators and press members down to the border to get a first-hand look at a situation that a lot of people don’t fully understand,” explains Colter. “We were able to show them major cities where people cross the border in cars and other vehicles, and the areas where infrastructure is in place as well as areas where it’s not. We take them down there to show them the reality of the situation, and then let them make their own decisions on what needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, Colter also continued to golf and was looking to return to competitive play. “I have a friend—an Air Force guy up in Montana that I met in Germany—and we were looking to play some events and just get out more,” says Colter, who quickly found the Veteran Golfers Association after an ad for an upcoming event happened to be at his home course in Great Falls, Montana (his dad's second Air Force assignment location). The VGA event was actually scheduled to be held at the first golf course his dad ever took him to at age 11—not to play, but to ride along.
A nationally recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the VGA’s mission is to impact the lives of U.S. military veterans and their families through the game of golf. With chapters all over the country, the VGA provides opportunities for veterans to play great courses at a subsidized price point. They compete all seaosn long in a local series of events culminating in regional qualifiers and, ultimately, a national tournament. Run by veterans, for veterans, the organization provides opportunities for veterans to remain physically active and connect with other servicemembers during their crucial transition back to civilian life and beyond.
“The VGA is really a special organization,” says Colter. Though a relatively new member, he's already made a name for himself as a competitor, winning the central regional championship held in August at Nebraska City’s ArborLinks (part of the prestigious Dormie Network) to qualify for a spot in the VGA Championship at West Virginia’s renowned Greenbriar Golf Club. But it’s not just about the golf; it’s about returning to the relationships and camaraderie unique to military service.
“I’ve heard some phenomenal stories and met some amazing people,” says Colter, noting that the values behind the organization extend from the players and regional directors all the way to the organization’s president. “He would drop anything to do anything for any member of the VGA, or just if you need to talk. It’s crazy having someone that high up in the organization willing to drop everything and give you a call at any second.”
Today, Colter is Envoy Regional Jet First Officer on the EMB 175. He recently moved to Dallas to be closer to family, and is settling into civilian life with Sara, the kids, and plenty of golf. While his path has certainly been his own, in many ways, it mirrors his family’s values and traditions, many of which were instilled at a very young age. For Colter, it all came full circle when he was able to take his dad—a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who flew the F-16 and is now a test pilot for Gulfstream Aerospace—on his last Black Hawk flight before separating from the Army. Of course, Colter still flies his dad as an airline passenger, one who gets a few extra cookies from the cabin attendant (airline perks!).
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