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Boomer Grandpa: A call to service — to help our veterans

December 27, 2018

Sometimes an event changes the course of a life, as it did for Kati Carpenter when she was 15 years old. She was struggling with direction and what she would do in her future. College didn’t seem like it would be her cup of tea.

One morning at Mayo High School she walked into her Latin class and saw her instructor watching television. Tears were in her teacher’s eyes. It was Sept. 11, 2001. The North Tower of the World Trade Center had just been struck by a passenger jetliner.

As Kati sat down at her desk, the South Tower was struck by another jetliner. In the months that followed the attack, Kati started to feel a call to the service of her country.

Kati comes from a proud military family. Her great grandfather, both of her grandfathers and her dad all served. The call she felt did not dissipate and she left for Navy boot camp on Sept. 14, 2004, at 18 years of age.

Mission-ready

Assigned as an airman in a maintenance department, Kati became one of the “caretakers of the jets,” as she puts it. Soon her dedication, work and skill earned a designation as plane captain. This responsibility is to ensure that every aircraft is mission-ready. This charge for a young Navy airman is heavy.

In 2006, her outfit was called up to the 5th fleet during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her Navy squadron would be the first to do split site operations, with the maintenance crews rotating between the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and Iraq. Kati loved the work and was proud to serve with men and women who became her family — they were in it together.

Kati was ready to make the Navy her career, but as troops began to withdraw from Iraq she was told her experience and expertise were no longer required. All branches of the military went into a troop reduction mode.

This was hard to accept and she was resentful for a while. She was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2011.

Kati’s commitment to her fellow veterans never left her. There have been stories across the country and right here in our state and community regarding veterans taking their own lives. Kati felt another call to service, as five people she served with committed suicide.

Those tragedies, she said, felt like another 9/11. Kati became active in many ways to help members of her military family. This past September she saw a posting of a new position with the Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota.

The job was the Southeast Transportation Coordinator. Kati applied and said in her interview that her mission, her passion, was to be part of what they were doing — helping veterans. She was hired.

Critical need

The main part of Kati’s job is to coordinate transportation for veterans in Southeast Minnesota, to ensure that veterans who need transportation assistance get to their VA medical appointments. This service is provided at no cost to the veterans.

As the DAV takes responsibility for this critical mission, it is in need of volunteer drivers. It is crucial that veterans get to their scheduled medical appointments. It is critical that a veteran get to his or her mental health appointment. We never know what a veteran is going through. If an appointment is missed, it might be months before they can be scheduled again.

The DAV SE Transportation Office is responsible for Olmsted, Winona and Steele counties. The program serves ambulatory and non-wheelchair-bound veterans to and from VA-approved medical appointments.

The key to the program is having enough drivers. There is a certification process for volunteer drivers who will have a background investigation, will be interviewed and provided with training. In all, Kati says the official blessing to become a driver takes about four hours.

You don’t have to be a veteran to become a volunteer driver, and you can volunteer once a week or once a month. Kati’s goal is to recruit and have in place 20 volunteer drivers per county.

Vans, sometimes carrying four to five veterans, will be making a few trips a day. In Olmsted County trips will go to the Twin Cities and some will make local trips to the VA clinic in Rochester. The trips from Winona and Steele counties may go to Tomah, Wis., or Madison, Wis. Kati said she has a critical need for drivers in Rochester.

If you are looking for a rewarding new opportunity in 2019 this is the ticket. (Make sure you don’t get a ticket.) If you can help, call Kati Carpenter at 507-703-1139 or go to the website www.davmn.org for additional information.

In Kati’s life, she told me, she has always felt like a protector. This job has given her a purpose to assist her military family.

Suicide prevention and veterans receiving the medical care they were promised are missions that Kati is on. She needs help.

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