Highlighting veteran stories
On Nov. 10, Rep. Jason Crow organized a “Veteran to Veteran” roundtable ahead of Veterans Day at the CU Denver Anschutz campus. Before running for Congress, Crow served two tours as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.
Crow stated he believed it was important for veterans to share their stories with others in their communities because after serving he noticed a “divide that exists between the civilian and military world.”
The forum was emceed by Tiffany Baker-Strothkamp, the Transition and Support Coordinator for the CU Denver Veteran and Military Student Services office. Baker-Strothkamp is a veteran of the US Army and served two tours in Afghanistan.
Baker-Strothkamp, addressing the veterans who were to speak at the event, stated, “Your stories may be expressive of your pride, grief, your anger, or any combination of these feelings.”
David Ortiz, who served in Afghanistan, spoke at the forum. Ortiz survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“To say I’m lucky to be here would be an understatement,” Ortiz stated. “It was only because of the support I had gotten from the community that I was able to…think about recovering.”
Due to his desire to continue to serve, Ortiz has advocated for veterans at the Capitol in Denver, where his efforts helped pass HB17-1004, College Credit For Military Education And Training to help active duty servicemembers earn college credit. Ortiz is also running for Colorado House District 38 in 2020.
“It’s not about what party you come from, what religion you are, your gender, or who you love. When you swear an oath, you swear an oath to a set of ideals,” Ortiz explained. “That’s what Veterans Day should bring out in all of us.”
Also in attendance was Leanne Wheeler, a veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm and a 2019 candidate for Aurora City Council.
“What was interesting about my service was I never saw another woman,” Wheeler said about her experience. After retiring from the Air Force, Wheeler said she asked herself, “How do we support women transitioning? That’s the work I continue to do.”
Wheeler explained that though she found a job as a defense contractor at Raytheon after retiring from the Air Force, she was laid off after the recession in 2008. “I actually experienced 16 months of homelessness,” Wheeler revealed.
Wheeler hopes to help others who have been in her position, stating, “I’m looking to create a state women’s veterans office to support transition.”
At the end of the event, Crow announced his office would be partnering with the Library of Congress for the Veterans History Project, which records and archives veterans’ stories.
“We have civilian control of the military. I think for that to work effectively, to make sure we have a community and a country that understands what service is about, and the sacrifices that veterans make when they’re deployed, and when we make decisions to send people to war, it’s important to understand the veterans’ experience,” Crow told The Sentry. “Telling that story is really more important than it’s ever been.”
More information about the Veterans History Project is available at www.loc.gov/vets.