Faces Of The Boom: Kentucky Man, Son Look For Fresh Start In ND

David Knuckles, who moved to North Dakota from Kentucky, sits on a cot at Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, where he slept for two weeks before finding a job that provided housing. Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications

WILLISTON, N.D. – David Knuckles is proud of the time he spent training Iraqi police officers and helping that country rebuild, but it meant spending a lot of time away from his son.

Now the Oil Patch is offering a chance for them to rebuild their relationship and have steady employment.

David, 47, and his son Mitchell, 18, arrived in Williston from Kentucky about three weeks ago.

David spent nearly seven years training Iraqi police officers, something he signed up to do in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because he was too old to join the military.

“I thought that it would be my way of doing something for 9/11,” said David, 47. “I got over there and I enjoyed the work.”

After returning from Iraq eight months ago, the former police officer had a difficult time finding work in the Louisville area.


Mitchell Knuckles


While his father was in Iraq, Mitchell dropped out of high school. He also was struggling to get consistent work in Kentucky, where the unemployment rate is 8.6 percent, just above the national average of 8.2 percent and well above the 3.1 percent jobless rate in North Dakota.

The two decided to move to North Dakota to look for job opportunities and to spend time together after living apart for so long.

“There’s something uniquely American about what’s going on here as far as people who are willing to come here and follow the opportunity,” David said.

The father and son had done their homework, so they knew housing would be tough to find in Williston. They planned to either sleep in their vehicle or pitch tents, but ended up sleeping on cots at Concordia Lutheran Church while they searched for jobs that provided housing.

Mitchell found a job first, working for a lawn service. David also worked for the lawn service on days he wasn’t job hunting.

“There’s plenty of work to do here just to get some money coming in until you get something more permanent,” David said.

Last week, David began working as an overnight supervisor at the Williston Walmart, and Mitchell began working one of the crew members.

The job includes housing at a crew camp in Watford City and transportation back and forth.

“Finding a job that has housing becomes everything,” David said. “That becomes a priority, not what the work is.”

While in North Dakota, Mitchell also plans to pursue a GED and earn a driver’s license.

“It’s really a fresh start,” Mitchell said.

David moved to North Dakota with plans to relocate. Mitchell, whose mother and two siblings remain in Kentucky, isn’t sure how long he will be in North Dakota.

Mitchell said he’s enjoying the chance to be with his father, who had leave from Iraq about every six or seven months.

“It’s been great. I can’t really explain it,” Mitchell said. “It’s different, but it’s a good different.”

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