OSHKOSH – Early in his life, Adam Alexander said military service was “the furthest thing from his mind.”
Alexander grew up in Potosi, in the southwest of the state, where he played baseball and football in high school and kept busy outside of sports playing in a garage band.
Alexander said things changed while he was attending the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. While studying criminal justice there, he said he spoke to a lot of veterans and felt his life experience compared to theirs was pretty “mundane.”
At a job fair, Alexander met a US Army recruiter who convinced him to meet. After talking more, he “liked what he heard” and began basic training in 2008, where he joined the reserves as a civil affairs specialist.
His decision became fatal. Three years later, he was shot in the head while deployed and suffered serious injuries. But Alexander has made it an opportunity by finding several ways to give back, including joining a local veterans organization and co-hosting a local access show in Oshkosh that allows veterans to share their stories.
His work since that day has earned him many accolades, including being named the 2022 American Disabled Veteran of the Year by the organization Disabled American Veterans. He received the award Aug. 6 at the National DAV and Auxiliary Convention in Orlando, Florida.
“Adam’s story is not one of struggle, but of triumph,” said DAV National Commander Andy Marshall. “His lights may have gone out across the globe in a battle for his life, but they have unmistakably come back. And now he’s putting them and the cameras into action.
Alexander said the impact he was able to have on other veterans gave him a tremendous sense of purpose despite the long road to recovery.
In his words: “It gave me a sense of worth and a sense that it wasn’t just some random tragedy that happened to me.”
“There’s a reason for that,” Alexander said.
After an attack at his post, six trying days when the “lights went out”
After basic training in 2008, Alexander said he served in the reserves with weekend drills and other training before his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.
Alexander’s unit, the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, was in Paktia province, an area about 80 miles south of the capital Kabul.
On November 10, 2011, he was at a special forces fire station when the alarm bells started ringing while he was on the phone with a deputy back at main base.
“I said ‘sorry sir, but I’m going to have to escape. We’re under attack, I have to get into a gun truck,'” Alexander said. “He said ‘OK, be careful, keep your head down.'”
Alexander joked that he “didn’t follow that order”.
While defending the base, he said he learned he had fired a sniper shot just below the brim of his helmet. From there, the “lights went black”.
He was later told what happened during the six-day journey to bring him home. After the firing stopped, a medical evacuation helicopter was called. The pilot was ordered not to land because of the heavy fire, but apparently the radio was “badly programmed”, so the pilot did not hear this message, luckily for Alexander.
Alexander was taken to a field hospital where he was stabilized, before being flown to Germany for further procedures, then to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was eventually reunited. his family.
The attack left Alexander with extensive damage to his right frontal lobe and right eye, which ended his military career. The frontal lobe is responsible for initiation and at first Alexander had problems completing simple tasks.
After a 10 months of rehabilitation at the Minneapolis Veterans Hospital, Alexander was able to get back on his feet, moving to Oshkosh and getting married after leaving the hospital.
He is now a full-time stay-at-home dad with their young son, a role he says can sometimes be “more terrifying than the fight was”.
Alexander still struggles with memory and tasks, but he’s taken it in stride and is able to crack jokes about his injuries.
“If my wife sends me to the store with a list of five things, she’s lucky if I come back with two,” Alexander said. “My running joke is ‘I’ve been shot in the head, do you want bread or freedom?'”
A chance encounter gives the opportunity to change lives
After moving to Oshkosh, Alexander was looking for a way to get involved in the community. A chance email put him in touch with Mike Hert, a former veteran of the Oshkosh DAV chapter.
Hert was actually the man on the phone with Alexander before he was shot in 2011. Alexander said Hert implicated him in Winnebago County DAV Chapter 17where he quickly became heavily involved.
Alexander said he lacked the sense of being part of a team and being a leader that he gained from being in the military. Joining the DAV helped him feel that again.
“I got some of that camaraderie back and became part of a fraternity again,” he said.
In 2021, Alexander said Hert approached him about potentially co-hosting a show with him on Oshkosh Media about veterans issues.
Alexander said he wouldn’t say no to a “new adventure.” For nearly a year now, Alexander and Hert have helped provide a platform for veterans with their show, “The Outpost”, on Oshkosh Media.
“I found telling my story to be cathartic and healing,” Alexander said. “I hope other veterans can too.”
One of his favorite episodes was with his friend and neighbor Chuck DeMunck, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam as a Green Beret and won three Purple Hearts.
Alexander said this was the first time DeMunck had spoken about his service in Vietnam, and he felt good about giving him the opportunity to “take it off his chest” in some ways.
As part of his work with DAV, Alexander also testified in Madison in support of a bill that would provide property tax credits to disabled veterans.
He said he felt touched by the attention from DAV and the award he received, but he is happy to have found his space to help his team members live their best lives.
“It’s nice to know that what you do gets noticed and appreciated,” Alexander said.