For veterans, service doesn’t stop when uniform comes off
On Veterans Day, we commemorate the service of members of the armed forces of the United States, past and present. But for some of those veterans, the call to serve persists long after they take off their uniforms for the last time and return to civilian life.
One such veteran in Haywood County demonstrates that call to serve through her volunteer work, which is making a difference in the life of a child.
Ever since she was a little girl growing up in a military family in Florida, Kori Osienger has known exactly what she wanted to do — serve.
“Every time 9-11 rolls around my mom likes to tell that I got off the bus and was like, ‘I have to do something,’” said Osienger, now 32. “I decided I wanted to be an Army medic so during my senior year of high school I went to EMT school, dual-enrolled, and I joined the Army right out of high school as a combat medic.”
Osienger reported to Fort Bragg three days before she turned 19, in 2007. Six weeks later, she found herself in Afghanistan.
“I was what is called a ’68 Whiskey,’ a combat medic,” she said. “We worked in some trauma rooms. I was the medic for a protective services detail for a while, and then I was attached out with an infantry unit on the front line to assist with female local nationals.”
That year, U.S. casualties began to spike, going from less than 50 a year in the opening stages of the war to more than a hundred a year once Osienger got there.
“It was never slow,” she said. “Every day was something different. I like to say it was the best worst days of my life.”
Over the next four years, U.S. forces regularly logged over 300 fatalities a year, topping out at 496 in 2010.
On her second deployment, Osienger almost became one of them.
“I was injured by an IED. An improvised explosive device hit our Humvee and I ended up with a traumatic brain injury, injured my back, and we lost a couple guys that day too.”
For a long time, Osienger blamed herself. As a medic, it was her job to bring everybody home, but that day, her job was to comfort dying soldiers in their final moments. In addition to her physical injuries, Osienger also experiences post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There’s generalized anxiety, certain things bring on flashbacks, panic attacks,” she said.
Her service dog, Battle, helps with that, but there is something else that helps her deal with the effects of PTSD.
Osienger is rated by the VA as 100% disabled, so she doesn’t really have to work, but that same little girl who got off the school bus in 2001 wanting to do something about 9-11 now spends her time serving as a volunteer in her Haywood County community.
“I do Big Brothers/Big Sisters here, and I love it. I was just kind of googling things to volunteer, to be able to do something, get out of the house, and I came across the website,” she said. “I just thought that would be really cool, to be able to help influence kids and be there for them, be a friend for them.”
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Kori Osienger (left) says her little enjoys hanging out with her. Cory Vaillancourt photo
Founded in 1904, the nonprofit Big Brothers Association merged with the Catholic Big Sisters in 1977 to become Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, a one-on-one mentoring program that matches adults, called “bigs” with children, called “littles.”
Kori Osienger’s “little” is a third grader we’ll call David, and he says they get to do all kinds of fun stuff together.
“She’s nice to me and she picks me up usually,” David said. “I like to paint with her and go putt-putting and paddle boarding.”
David said he’s doing great in school this year and is learning from Osienger how to become a better listener.
Martha Barksdale is the program coordinator for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Haywood and Madison Counties. She made the match between Osienger and her little.
“We look for children that are facing adversity. They could be from a single-parent home. They could have had a recent death in their family. We do have a growing number of children in this community and all communities that live with a grandparent or another relative,” Barksdale said. “They just don’t have opportunities that some kids get, they can’t get out and do a lot of things, so we’re looking for a child that could benefit from more activity.”
Barksdale said the Haywood office runs on an annual budget of between $25,000 and $30,000 a year. Bigs don’t get paid for their service, but littles don’t have to pay for the program, either. Right now, there are 33 pairs of bigs and littles in Haywood County. Over the past 2 years, as bigs and littles cycle in and cycle out of the program, there have been a total of 55.
Some bigs, like Osienger, find that they benefit from BBBS as well.
“Well that’s the beautiful thing about Big Brothers/Big Sisters,” Barksdale said. “The volunteer gets as much or more out of this relationship as the child.”
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Western North Carolina is always looking for more bigs — especially men — to pair with their littles.
For more information, visit bbbswnc.org.
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