Growing up listening to his Fathers stories, Sgt. Dave Arensdorf knew he’d serve in the armed forces as well. Joining the US Marines as a sophomore in high school, he was only 16 when he enlisted. Sgt. Arensdorf deployed to Fallujah in 2004-2005, and spent time working as a mechanic, guard, and operator for motor-T. After coming home there were some relationship conflicts that were just more than he cared to tolerate. At his insistence, he was added to the next outgoing deployment to Iraq. Now in 2008 he deployed to Taqaddam, Iraq. While the hours were long, Sgt. Arensdorf enjoyed the tour and volunteered to be extended for a 3rd tour while in country. Finally returning home in 2010, he discharged from the US Marine Corps, got married, and had 2 children. After a divorce, Sgt. Arensdorf came face to face with the memories of the deployments. His children were his only joy in the world. Knowing this wasn’t the way it should be Sgt. Arensdorf sought help from a therapy team of veterans. After a few years he turned the corner and has found joy in his work, life, and family again. The lessons Sgt. Arensdorf learned growing up, serving, deploying, and healing has continues his mission and helped to safe another life.
She is the past president of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Student Veterans Organization. Lia Coryell is a former U.S. Army Soldier who was diagnosed with MS. “I spent my time at home trying to stay alive” says Lia. Through courage, determination and with extreme physical challenges Lia is now a star U.S. paraolympian in archery. Join us as Lia shares her inspirational story.
Jon Christensen’s tour of duty in Vietnam featured several roles. His unit coordinated the distribution of thousands of tons of supplies from ports near Saigon to every corner of the country. He rode shotgun on supply truck convoys. And he survived perhaps the most famous enemy uprising of the war, the 1968 Tet offensive.
Christensen arrived home bearing the weight of anger and confusion. The absence of anyone with whom he could share his experiences amplified his anguish. Still, Jon persevered.
Ultimately, his longing for healthy connections and ardent desire to reach out to veterans, led him to a lifelong career of helping others.
Mark Flower enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduation from High School. He served, then lived life gaily until issues took hold, bringing him to homelessness and addiction. The hardest step – seeking help – started Mark on his journey in recovery. This recovery is maintained by giving back and by being of service to others who struggle with similar experiences. Giving back helps keep Mark on track in his recovery!
Being a veteran and being hired, means you are a liability, right? Wrong. Michael Kirchner is the director of Military Student Services at Purdue University Fort Wayne and an Assistant Professor of Organizational Leadership where he teaches courses in leadership, training and human resource development geared towards veterans entering the workforce and the challenges they face. Kirchner was the first director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Military and Veterans Resource Center (MAVRC) where he guided programming for the 1,500+ military-affiliated student population on campus. From 2013 to 2016, the campus built a nationally-recognized “military-college-career” framework focusing on supporting student veteran transitions.
Kirchner earned his Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and his research on veteran career transitions and applications of military leader development in non-military contexts has been published in numerous peer reviewed journals including Human Resource Development Quarterly, New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, Industrial and Commercial Training, Organization Management Journal and the Journal of Military Learning. Dr. Kirchner frequently provides consulting to small, medium and large organizations on military-friendly programing and new employee onboarding. He served a year in Baghdad, Iraq from 2004-2005 as part of the US Army National Guard.
Jim Hackbarth grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was drafted into the Army shortly after graduating from high school. Hackbarth was trained first as a helicopter maintenance specialist and later as the door gunner on a UH-1 (Huey) helicopter.
Hackbarth arrived in Vietnam in October of 1968 and served a one-year tour of duty as a member of the 1st Cavalry Division. Although not wounded physically, Jim suffered other forms of anguish. For example, pain and isolation stemming from his combat experiences interfered with his ability to make and keep close friends and relationships.
However, decades after returning home from the war, Jim sought counseling and started writing poetry. He re-connected with former comrades and sought to share his message of hope and reconciliation with other veterans. His mission of outreach continues today.
After a childhood with emotional and psychological challenges, Deeatra Kajfosz enlisted in the Idaho National Guard and found a home, but a move to Wisconsin, a change in military occupation and an unfamiliar culture unraveled her military experience.
Cycles of chronic major depression and anxiety and a near-fatal suicide attempt would follow and denial became her key to survival. She experienced suicide loss from a unique perspective and came to fully understand how little she knew about suicide. Kajfosz began a quest for answers.
Now, Kajfosz dedicates her life to raising awareness, providing education and supporting others affected by suicide ideation, attempt and loss. It is through her own life journey her story connects with her audience in highly personal and inspiring ways. Hers is an extraordinary tribute to the gift of adversity, the power to rise above it, and the ability to share a life-saving message of hope with others.
Deeatra Kajfosz is an award winning suicide awareness and prevention advocate, public speaker, and Founder of the LiFE OF HOPE organization, serving as a comprehensive approach to the prevention of suicide attempts and death.
Kenneth Lee immigrated to the United States with his family as a young boy. The son of a South Korean Army career soldier and Vietnam War Veteran, Lee developed a sense of duty to his new country. Completing medical school and determined to serve and “give back” he joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
There, as a commander of the Company Bravo of the 118th Area Support Medical Battalion, he suffered a traumatic brain injury during a suicide car bombing while on a combat tour to Iraq in 2003.
Years of physical and psychological challenges — and of the the haunting guilt of leaving his command post and company behind in Iraq — would strain Lee’s wife and children. They would be the real casualties of his war — suffering the effects of a husband and father emotionally detached from the family.
“You don’t smile anymore,” said Lee’s daughter — then he sought help.
After recognizing the need to take responsibility, he is determined to maintain the health of his family as the primary health care unit. His passion to help veterans is shown through his devotion to the adaptive sports community.
Heidi Carlson’s father was a Marine, her family had a history of substance abuse and addiction. Her marriage to a Vietnam War veteran — scarred by abuse — ended in divorce.
The loves of her life would be her two sons and her six grandchildren.
When her son David announced his decision to enlist in the US Army,
Heidi was frightened yet proud. David, an infantryman, returned from his first deployment to Iraq in good spirit and health.
When Meeting David at the airport returning from his second tour she immediately noticed, as a mother would, that his eyes were different and evasive.
While hugging her son he said to her, “your son did not come home this time.”
Heartbroken and afraid, what waited for them both were many years of suffering, substance abuse, severe mental health issues and prison punished them, but a mothers love would never surrender.