Jeremy Wolfsteller is one of 25 Veterans’ Voices Award recipients
More than 60,000 Minnesotans have been deployed to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are more than 381,000 veterans of all wars residing in Minnesota. It’s not always easy for those returning home to reacclimate, and Plymouth resident Jeremy Wolfsteller’s passion resides in connecting veterans with the help they deserve.
The 35-year-old is a service officer in the Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitations pillar of the American Legion. The bulk of his work consists of aiding veterans in making claims for programs or funds available to them through their service.
Wolfsteller works with veterans of all wars and serves the greater Minnesota region.
For his work, Wolfsteller will be the recipient of one of 25 Veterans’ Voices Awards from the Humanities Center, which focuses on bringing into public life the stories and experiences of people and communities that have been missing.
The award will be given at the Humanities Center in St. Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 11, but Wolfsteller’s story begins 12 years earlier, when the country experienced the tragedy of the worst attack in the history of America.
Wolfsteller graduated from Osseo High School and was working two jobs and taking college courses part-time when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred in Washington, D.C. and New York City. With support from his friends and family, Wolfsteller decided to join the U.S. Army.
His first deployment was 2003-04, which coincided with the first major push of forces into Iraq. After the tour, Wolfsteller’s contract with the Army was nearing its end.
However, he was soon “stop-lossed,” the involuntary extension of a service member’s active duty service, and he embarked on a second deployment in 2005. Wolfsteller’s life was about to change forever.
On June 25, 2005, Wolfsteller’s unit was involved in a pre-orchestrated attack with multiple U.S. forces in efforts to weed out the insurgency. A firefight ensued, and Wolfsteller was shot.
“[The enemy] basically must have had some intel — they were waiting for us in different places of the neighborhoods,” Wolfsteller said, recalling the day.
A bullet entered his right hip, zinged around his body internally and traveled out through his left shoulder. He remains unsure whether it was sniper fire or a random, stray shot.
Wolfsteller immediately underwent a life-saving nine-hour in-country surgery and was then transported to a medical treatment center in Germany.
Shortly after, he was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C., where an intensive 11-month rehabilitation began.
Wolfsteller’s bones were able to heal naturally, and no artificial replacements were required. Today, he is able to walk — without a cane — however, with no feeling in his right leg.
“I’m doing pretty dang good, I think, for someone with an injury like that,” he said. “It was pretty much a miracle.”
Wolfsteller took medical retirement from the Army in 2007 as an E5 Sergeant.
He decided to go back to school and shortly found himself at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. In 2007, then-governor Tim Pawlenty established a law stating that Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system schools were required to provide a veteran resource center where vets could take care of all their educational needs in one location.
Wolfsteller was asked to help create the resource center for Normandale
“I worked really hard to create something special there for our military who wanted to go to school,” he said. “And that’s when I found the passion. I enjoy working with other men and women who did the same thing I did.”
Today, Normandale’s Veteran Resource Center is recognized as one of the best in the state, and the college’s military veteran enrolment has burgeoned.
Normandale was pleased enough with Wolfsteller’s work that they created a full-time position for him, where he worked for a few weeks until he got the call from the American Legion — Wolfsteller wanted to extend his talents past the educational realm and into the full gamut of veteran resources.
“I was lucky to be one of the few that were actually taken care of by the military and the federal [U.S. Department of] Veterans Affairs,” he said. “They took good care of me, and that doesn’t happen a lot. Unfortunately, there are a lot of gaps. That’s why there’s people like myself.”
Wolfsteller has been with the American Legion since March of 2010
The purpose of the Veterans’ Voices Award, according to the Humanities Center, is to “…use the power of humanities to bring the voices of veterans out of the shadows and into the light.”
Wolfsteller said his interpretation of the award was to let the general populace know that service members come back from wars and aren’t just quitting. There are people coming home who make a great transition and set their mind and energy on something to benefit the greater community.
“We continue to serve, because maybe that’s in our blood,” he said. “That’s how we were trained – to serve. I think that sticks with the majority of us who come out. We like to serve our country.”
He continued to say that, while he is honored by the award, there are many others who deserve the recognition equally.
“It’s nice to have recognition, but you have to be careful with that,” he said. “There are so many veterans out there just like me who are coming home – some have visible injuries and some have injuries that are unseen. Everyone has contributed the same, and everyone is doing the best they can when they transition back home. It just so happens to be that I got put in for something like this.”
He said part of coming home from war successfully involves finding a channel for your energy — it’s important to keep goals and constantly work toward them.
“We all have struggles, I imagine all 25 of us selected for this award have our own personal struggles — I know I do,” he continued. “It’s how we deal with them and, I think, we deal with them by doing what we’re doing. If we didn’t have something to do to keep our minds focused, we would think more about what we had done and gone through. And that can lead to a lot of anxiety.”
Helping veterans is what Wolfsteller said he loves to do. He said it gives him a noble purpose, and he enjoys seeing the impact he is able to have on real people every day.
“This is my passion, to help veterans everyday,” he noted. “I’m not just work-minded — I want to provide them help, but I want to be their friend as well. As long as I continue to thrive on doing what I’m doing, I’ll be there for people.”
Jeremy Wolfsteller, right, had the opportunity to meet former president George W. Bush at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. during an 11-month rehabilitation process. Wolfsteller was shot in the right hip during his second deployment to Iraq in 2005.