For Kodey Kerkman, joining the Army National Guard was second nature.
Kerkman grew up in the small town of Atkinson, Neb., where serving in the military is an unspoken tradition.
“Joining the National Guard was a common thing in Atkinson,” Kerkman explained. “There were a lot of soldiers from my same hometown, which was nice, to be with people who came from the same roots.
“Being deployed overseas with others that I had known for the majority of my life was comforting, as we had so much in common, and I know our families back home felt the same.”
Unfortunately, where they serve as one, they also mourn as one.
“We were all deeply affected when one of our own was killed, during the incident where I received the Purple Heart,” the veteran continued. “But we, and our families, were able to grieve together.”
Kerkman recalled that day — July 21, 2007, just two years after completing his basic training in Fort Leonardwood, Mo.
Though he was assigned to the 755th Chemical Company in O’Neill, Neb., during deployment to Balad, Iraq, Kerkman’s company served as convoy security.
“I was the gunner in a Humvee on a mission escorting trucks to another base,” he said. “We were positioned halfway back in the convoy, and a roadside bomb was detonated on the passenger side of our Humvee.”
The explosion claimed the life of his hometown friend, Sgt. Jacob Schmuecker.
Though Kerkman was burned, he returned to active duty upon full recovery, and continued to serve in the National Guard for another three years. When he finally decided to hang up his boots, Kerkman left the National Guard as a specialist, and pursued a career outside of military service.
Utilizing the military’s post-secondary education benefits, the veteran earned a degree in business and entered the finance industry, working the last four years as a mortgage loan officer with Bank of the West in Omaha, Neb.
Despite his career taking him out of the realm of the National Guard, Kerkman said he was proud to take part in the continuation of a rich local legacy of military service — including his father, who was a U.S. Marine.
“I wanted to do something where I would feel a sense of accomplishment,” he said.
Katy Moore can be reached at email@example.com.