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Montana Western graduate leads a remarkable life

UMW News Bureau

cowboy riding saddle broncWhether it’s battling with a 1,300-pound saddle bronc for eight seconds, fighting insurgents in Iraq, enlightening middle school students to the mysteries of math, or managing often contrary draft horses at Denver’s National Western Stock Show, Brian Dawson’s life can be summarized by one word, remarkable. 


Within the span of one month, Dawson will have graduated with honors from the University of Montana Western and capped his collegiate career with an appearance at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) June 14 - 20, 2009 in Casper, Wyo.

But anyone who knows him would attest that he is the last one to call attention to his achievements.

“I’m just a regular guy whose had lots of opportunities and I’ve been fortunate enough to take advantage of them,” Dawson said.

Born and raised on a ranch south of Boulder, Mont., Dawson has been a go-getter his entire life. At age 11, he began training colts for area ranchers which evolved into a business that was to put cash in his pockets right through high school.

Brian was a talented high school athlete competing in football and basketball. He tried one year of track, but didn’t continue because track meets interfered with spring calving. Brian said his experience in athletics prepared him well for his six years in the Marines.

Dawson enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Boulder High School in 2000. His reason for the joining the Marines was simple.

“Our family has a history of civil service and patriotism,” Dawson said. “My Dad was a sheriff for 20 years and my older brother is a game warden. I was more interested in the military and if I was going to join, I wanted to join the best, so I joined the Marines.”

Dawson took it one step further and became part of Marine Force Reconnaissance — the elite of the elite. Selection is based on a rigorous testing procedure and each member attends a variety of special operation schools.

Dawson’s unit, Company B of the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, was made up of native Montanans which produced a very tight-knit unit.

“We were called the Montana Boys,” Dawson said. “I was so lucky to serve with a great group of guys. We are planning on getting together for the first time since Iraq at a wedding this summer.”

Brian Dawson in IraqBefore entering the Marines, Dawson had been working for Joe DeMers of the Red-Eye Rodeo Company, a rodeo stock contracting company. In addition to the moral support he received from his family while in Iraq, the support he received from DeMers was equally impressive. He honored DeMers by naming his humvee Red-Eye Rodeo.

When it comes to his tour in Iraq, Dawson doesn’t talk as much about his combat experience as he does his unit’s relationship with the Iraqi people.

“The thing I remember most are the people who lined up to say goodbye when my unit left their village. The men shook their hands and the women, with tears in their eyes, presented each Marine with flowers thanking them for their help,” he said.

While in Iraq, he learned of the new natural horsemanship degree at Montana Western . The degree seemed a natural fit for Dawson and his plans for the future.

When arriving on the UMW campus, Dawson had no plans other then getting his degree. Olie Else, Montana Western’s rodeo coach, had other ideas probably due to a bronc riding scouting report from two-time CNFR All-Around Champion Cody DeMers.

Dawson made a promise to DeMers that he would ride a bronc upon his return from Iraq. Honoring the promise with a borrowed saddle, Dawson rode a bronc and was hooked on the event.

Dawson didn’t compete in rodeo in high school and as much as he liked the sport, he was unsure about competing on the collegiate level. He found an almost new saddle bronc saddle at a local pawnshop.

“Brian is a natural,” Else said. “The saddle bronc event is rodeo’s classic event and considered the toughest of the rough stock events because of its technical requirements. When you watch Brian ride, it is hard to believe that he has only been riding saddle bronc for a few years.”

Dawson was granted an extension to his eligibility from the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and with only two years of experience, Dawson finished the 2008-09 season in seventh place in the tough Big Sky Region.

This past season, Dawson is one of the reasons the Montana Western men’s team captured a regional title and did it in dominating fashion. He earned his first trip to CNFR with a second place finish in the Big Sky regional standings.

On May 9, he graduated from Montana Western magna cum laude with two degrees, a bachelor of science in natural horsemanship with science and management options, and a bachelor of science in business — again, a remarkable achievement.

He received the Top Natural Horsemanship Student Award from La Cense Montana and the Montana Western equine studies faculty. Dawson was also one of 16 students inducted into Alpha Chi National College Honor Society.

He is also a member of the Montana Western draft horse driving team. The team has competed twice as the only collegiate team at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo. Like most college students, Dawson had a part-time job. He worked for the Hirschy ranches in the Big Hole and Whitehall, Mont. The Hirschy’s have three daughters and they quickly adopted him as their big brother. Like most big brothers, he fell victim to their teasing and helped them with homework, primarily math homework.

He was so good at it, that the youngest daughter at a UMW rodeo club fundraiser, outbid everyone for Dawson’s time. She wanted him as her tutor. Remarkable.