On Nov. 10, 2011, a typical civil affairs mission turned tragic for Army Sgt. Adam Alexander, who was operating as part of the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion in Paktia province, Afghanistan.
“Adam said he had to go because they were under attack,” said Lt. Col. Mike Hert, deputy commanding officer of the Paktia Province Reconstruction Team, who was keeping tabs on the team by conference call.
“I remember Mike saying keep your head down,” Alexander recalled. It would be one of the last things he remembered before the events that changed his life forever.
Twenty minutes later, Hert received the news—Alexander had been struck in the head by an armor-piercing round and was unresponsive. Insurgents had attacked his team using small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests during a government meeting.
Alexander survived, but not without several major surgeries.
“I was initially told I had a 5 percent chance of survival,” Alexander said. “Luckily, I’m not very good at math.”
While Alexander was navigating an extensive and grueling rehabilitation, Hert was finishing up his deployment, and the two temporarily lost contact.
After service, Hert returned to his home state of Wisconsin and settled in Oshkosh. He was an active member of DAV Chapter 17 when he heard about an opportunity to volunteer as a mentor in the new Outagamie County Veterans Treatment Court. Veterans Treatment Court is a program that provides veterans an alternative to incarceration, tailored to the unique experiences and needs of those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues from their service. Volunteer veteran mentors lend their time and abilities to assist veterans going through treatment.
“I was just sitting at my desk when I got a mass email about Veterans Treatment Court,” Hert said. “I was just looking through the names of recipients on the email when I saw the name Adam Alexander. I had to see if it was him, so I emailed the address, asking, ‘Adam, is that you?’”
As fate would have it, it was. After years without contact, they would soon discover they only lived a mile and a half apart.
“We got together and caught up,” Alexander said. “Mike was involved with DAV, so I took a look and drank the Kool-Aid. I was experiencing a bitter taste from being retired and missed being [a noncommissioned officer] and being with my guys. DAV built that camaraderie and was an excuse for us to spend more time together.”
Hert and Alexander now co-mentor veterans going through the Outagamie Veterans Treatment Court and get together about once a week.
“We don’t discuss Afghanistan as much—it’s more about what we are doing now,” Hert said. “Adam is immersing himself in the chapter. He has a deep passion and commitment for his fellow veterans, and he makes an immediate connection with everybody that he meets.”
“Adam and Mike go above and beyond in not only promoting DAV and its mission, but also in bringing the community together to support our veterans, particularly those who are struggling and in need of assistance,” said fellow DAV Chapter 17 member Bill Trombley. “Mike and Adam are an inspiration to us all. I do not see that older gentleman with a cane or a young man with the scars. I see two soldiers who devoted their lives to our country and continue to serve through DAV.