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Many veterans still feel the call to serve

Cory Vaillancourt
For retired Army Sgt. Kori Osienger, the service never stopped.

Veteran’s Day celebrates the service of members of the armed forces.  For some of those veterans, their service never stops, even years after they take off that uniform for the last time.

For the Haywood County chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, that service means a little something extra.

Kori Osienger has known exactly what she wanted to do since she was a little girl – 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,’ and I decided I wanted to be an Army medic so during my senior year of High School,” Osienger said. “I went to EMT school, dual-enrolled and I joined the Army right out of high school as a combat medic.”

Three days before her 19th birthday, in 2007, Osienger signed in at Ft. Bragg. Six weeks later, she found herself in Afghanistan.

“I was what is called a ’68 Whiskey,’ a combat medic,” said Osienger. “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. Every day was something different,” she said. “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, 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,” she said.

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, things like that,” said Osienger. “My service dog, Battle, he helps me a lot.”

There is, however, another thing 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.  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,” said Osienger. “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. 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.”

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,” he said. “I like to paint with her and go putt-putting and paddle boarding.”

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.

“Well that’s the beautiful thing about Big Brothers/Big Sisters,” said Barksdale. “The volunteer gets as much or more out of this relationship as the child.”

And that’s a sentiment that Osienger agrees with.

“The fact that he comes running down the hallway with a huge smile on his face and is genuinely happy to see me and wants to hang out and do stuff – making him happy makes me happy,” she said.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Western North Carolina is always looking for more “bigs” to pair with their “littles.”