November 9, 2022 at 4:23 p.m.
Blue reflects on 20 years of active service
When Katie Blue, Sauk Centre area native, looks back on her 20 years of active duty in the military, she feels humbled.
“I just think how blessed I was for the places I got to go and the people I got to meet and the professionals I was able to work with,” Blue said. “When I look back, it was truly, truly remarkable how I felt like, every place I was, that’s where I was supposed to be at that moment in time, and I was always surrounded by a great team of professionals and individuals to do the job.”
Growing up, Blue’s parents, Dale and Connie Sell, owned a West Union bar; the family lived above the bar for a while before renting a nearby farm and later moving into Sauk Centre. In 1984, when Blue was 6, they moved because her father was in the Army National Guard.
Blue’s father was not the only family veteran; three of Blue’s uncles and three of her cousins also served in the military. Her father retired as a sergeant major. However, military service was not something Blue was very interested in until around eighth grade.
“We owned horses, and through that social environment, we met a young lieutenant who was a West Point graduate who we kind of adopted when my dad was in Texas,” Blue said. “He was a graduate of the military academy, and when we met him, he kind of became an older brother to me, and from then on, I wanted to go to West Point.”
The Sell family moved back to Sauk Centre in 1993; Blue graduated from Sauk Centre High School in 1994, but because she wanted to stay close to her newly-reconnected roots, she did not apply for West Point and instead joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while at St. Cloud State University, studying for her bachelor’s degree in computer science. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps in 1998.
Blue was stationed at Fort Bragg, assigned to the 18th Airborne Corps, when the 9/11 terror attack occurred.
“We execute an exercise every year to prepare for an event like this, so we were in the middle of doing the fake exercise when the real thing kicked off, so everybody knew what they were doing right away,” Blue said. “We had quick reaction forces and roads cut down, and we had communication plans set up and all that stuff. It was actually scary because, at that time, you didn’t know how big the reach was, and then we started planning for Afghanistan immediately.”
Overall, Blue spent six years at Fort Bragg as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division and served as company commander. She was sent to Airborne School in 1995 while in ROTC, so Fort Bragg, Home of the Airborne, made sense.
“I was lucky enough to get assigned there twice,” Blue said. “When I was there the first time, not only was I a paratrooper, but I became what’s called a senior parachutist, which means I was qualified to actually push people out the door.”
Coming into the paratrooper role, though, Blue was scared of heights. To her, the first time parachuting – a jump from 800 feet – felt surreal.
“You can see the tops of the trees; they seem like they’re right below your feet,” Blue said. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something from deep down inside of you as a leader that just says there’s no choice in the matter. You jump because that’s what you’re expected to do as a leader.”
From then on, jumps did not necessarily get easier for Blue, but she did go about them smarter and safer, not only for herself but also for the troops under her command. She was also a civilian skydiver, making 2,200 jumps from as high as 18,500 feet.
Not all of her jumps went smoothly, though, particularly one night jump in April 2002 at Fort Bragg. While at 800 feet in a C-130, something in her combat equipment got hung up on the airplane door, and she ended up getting towed by her combat equipment lowering line.
“It’s called being a towed parachutist, and it’s really scary and doesn’t happen to many people who can tell about it later,” Blue said.
Once Blue realized she was being towed, her training kicked in and she assumed a tight body position to prevent injury. Captain Joshua Trimble, acting jumpmaster safety, had to quickly cut the lowering line.
“I’m one of some who lived to tell about the story,” Blue said.
Blue’s unit deployed to Afghanistan in 2002, and Blue ended up in Kuwait in 2003 where she was a command center battle captain, monitoring all of the communications as the center was getting set up and as other communication sites were established in Afghanistan.
“Imagine sitting in a command center with all of these screens with flashing lights and blinking buttons,” Blue said. “That was me.”
Blue’s continued academic career included graduating the Signal Captain’s Career Course at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and later earning her master’s degree in computer science from the University of South Florida in Tampa. Then, from 2008 to 2010, she was an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department instructor, teaching introductory IT in West Point – the original military academy she had wanted to attend while growing up. While at West Point, Blue was also in charge of their parachute team, the Black Knights; afterward, she was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, before another deployment in Afghanistan in 2014.
After 20 years of active duty, Blue retired from the military in 2018 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, her awards including the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Army Superior Unit Award and the Senior Parachutist badge.
Today, Blue resides in St. Cloud and volunteers with the Recovery Community Network, a non-profit that provides community members to provide peer-to-peer recovery support.
“We work with a lot of people getting out of a treatment center,” Blue said. “We work with veterans and the entire community in the Central Minnesota area.”
As Veteran’s Day approaches, Blue is grateful for her time in the military and how she was able to use her skills to benefit national and international security.
“It was a gift that I had a master’s degree in computer science and was able to use that in the military,” Blue said. “It was just such a blessing to serve.”