If you would have told a young Charles ‘Chad’ Highland that one day he’d be introduced by Tom Hanks and help present an Oscar during the 80th annual Academy Awards, he wouldn’t have believed you. The Ohio native would have the same reaction if you would have told him he’d be interviewed by one of his former students, also from Ohio.
First, let’s go back to just outside Cleveland.
“I grew up pretty poor and then that’s why I’m kind of like I have to work hard for everything I get because I started out that way,” North Dakota National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Chad Highland said.
And he’s worked hard ever since. After graduating high school, Highland worked in retail for a time and would then join the Army in 1992. An injury would cause him to leave, but not permanently.
“I loved music, so I started DJ-ing and I would do house parties and somebody… you know, it’s funny.
It’s always one person [who] will say something to you and just Bam! Whoa! Really? Somebody said to me: ‘Hey, you idiot, you could get paid doing this,” Highland said. “And I’m like: ‘Really?'”
He’d DJ in the smallest bars and the biggest nightclubs in Cleveland, all while attending what’s now the Ohio Media School. But Highland says the party atmosphere wore on him and he felt like he needed more.
“And that’s when I ended up going back in the Army,” Highland said.
In 2003, Highland got another chance at serving his country. He’d also have a chance to put his media school training to the test.
“And the guys at MEPS (The Military Entrance Processing Station) looked at my thing and he goes: ‘ I take it you want to be a journalist, huh?’ And I’m like: ‘Yep. That’s what I went to school for.’
He’s like: ‘We’ve got a print spot open.’ I said: ‘I know how this works. I don’t care if it takes a year, I want to be a broadcast journalist. Sure enough, I ended up getting in about three months later and here I am today,” Highland said.
He makes it sound brief, but between then and now, Highland returned home and taught at the Ohio Media School. In his time in the military, he’s been deployed to several countries, including Iraq, Germany and Kuwait. His first mission, though, came as a culture shock.
“My first spot they sent me to was Japan. When I got there, I was a young private and then I got put in an office and they said: ‘Here’s this news program. It’s yours. And I was like: ‘What?’ So, I ended up having to anchor my own television news show,” Highland said.
Since then, Highland’s been entrusted to do a lot more, including move to North Dakota in 2019 and become a public affairs specialist for the National Guard. As an Army journalist, it’s his responsibility to capture the camo in action, showing the stories the public normally wouldn’t.
“We try to show the positive. We’re here to show the taxpayers what we’re spending their money on.
We’re here to show a mom what her kid does on the weekends,” Highland said.
In addition to his numerous media awards, including the much sought after Thomas Jefferson Award, one of his colleagues says Highland is one of the best, hardest-working story-tellers he knows.
“I see him racing around to the point of exhaustion just to get a good shot,” Lt. Col. Bill Prokopyk (Ret.), North Dakota Public Affairs Specialist said. I’ll see him jump down in the middle of the field on his belly in order to get a good shot. His videos are incredible, his editing is second to none.”
Putting it all in perspective, Highland, the story-teller, said it’s hard to believe his life would become a story.
“To have my story told, I didn’t even know it was a story, but it’s amazing and to have it told by one of my students, it’s even better,” Highland said.
Highland is also part of the team responsible for putting together the Tag Line: the North Dakota National Guard’s weekly newsletter. He also said he’s proud to be part of the North Dakota National Guard. One reason he mentioned was its assistance with the COVID-19 pandemic response.