Steady, Aim, Admire: Captain Ashley Birdsall

Photo courtesy of Captain Ashley Birdsall
Photo courtesy of Captain Ashley Birdsall

Captain Ashley Birdsall of the Minnesota National Guard is a leader who makes it easy to follow her. Her outlook on life is contagious and it’s no wonder others wish to move about the world as she does. Just to break the ice, CPT Birdsall says, “perseverance, compassion, and determination. Those three things paint the picture of who I am.”

Originally from Minnesota, CPT Birdsall grew up in the Iron Range and Duluth area, and went to college in Superior, Wisconsin. Naturally she’s played hockey her whole life. After playing in high school and college, she played three seasons with the Minnesota Whitecaps, before signing a contract with the Buffalo Beauts, New York’s professional women’s hockey team, part of the Premier Hockey Federation. 

Her first exposure to the military was when she was 16, when her veteran grandfather passed away. The experience of the twenty-one gun salute and presentation of the flag to her grandmother shed light on the path she knew she wanted to take. “It was a pretty special moment and that was the first initial trigger. I just felt a calling to it.” CPT Birdsall joined in 2011 with the intention to serve in leadership roles. 

Her leadership ambitions are still set high, yet so far she has reached heights to be proud of. She currently serves as the 34th Infantry Division Headquarters Support Company Commander and the Battalion S3 Training Officer. Leading over 300 personnel, “I’ve always had more of a stand back, listen and learn approach,” says CPT Birdsall. She has that natural leadership ability to set a culture where an individual’s growth and development is prioritized while simultaneously inspiring that growth to add to a collective success. “Everyone underneath me are truly the experts, however successful a company commander is, it’s a direct reflection of the people underneath them.”

The same approach is taken when coaching hockey, “I start out by going down the line and asking each player what is something that they personally want to work on,” said CPT Birdsall,  “to improve their game, and then I take what they say and that drives what we do in practice.” 

It’s her value of teamwork that makes it all the more easier to face challenges in life, including her own. While her professional hockey career was put on hold due to the pandemic, an injury has made it unclear when she will be able to return to the ice. CPT Birdsall takes the detriment to one of her greatest accomplishments in stride and says, “not to stress about the future, everything’s going to pan out the way that it’s supposed to happen. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”

What can only be described as steadiness, with the added wisdom of the need to be flexible, and the skill of adaptability, is what amazes most about CPT Birdsall.  She says, “I have learned that not everything that you set out to do is achievable and you will fail and that’s okay.” She carries this message with her to the people she serves and interacts with every day to comfort them, motivate them, and let them know that they are capable of achieving great things. “It’s okay to fail at the end of the day,” said CPT Birdsall, “you’re always going to continue to grow, not only your skill sets but your character and your life experiences.”

So many experiences have shaped CPT Birdsall including the loss of a good friend and colleague in a helicopter crash. It was a very impactful and pivotal moment in her career and her life, “Life just happens so fast, it can change in a blink of an eye. I learned to really take in the present and the people that you’re with.” 

Clearly that comes with compassion and why there is draw to follow her. When CPT Birdsall started her career she was assigned at Camp Ripley in Minnesota, and that just happened to be where her grandfather is buried. “It’s kind of a fairy tale story, every time I go to Camp Ripley,” said CPT Bridsall, “I can go visit my grandfather and check in with him and hope I’m making him proud.” It’s safe to say, more than just her grandfather would be proud. 

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