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Two west central Minnesota veterans among 25 to be honored Sept. 11

ST. PAUL — Minnesota is home to thousands of veterans under the age of 40 who have served in overseas combat areas in recent years, returned home and have now found their next missions outside of the military.

The Minnesota Humanities Center will be recognizing 25 of these veterans for their service during a ceremony Sept. 11 in the Twin Cities.

It's an opportunity to give veterans the chance to speak for themselves, and let the public know the positive contributions they are making to their communities, according to Nancy Davis-Ortiz, program director with the Minnesota Humanities Center.

Nominations were sought from across the state before the first 25 recipients were chosen, she said.

They include two veterans from west central Minnesota: Nick Vorvick of Dawson and Jonathan Steinbach of Montevideo.

Both exemplify how the "next great generation'' is quietly and unselfishly continuing to serve, according to Davis-Ortiz.

Here's a look at the award recipients:

Deployment changes his life direction

Nick Vorvick joined the Minnesota National Guard in 2002, the year he graduated from Montevideo High School.

"Ever since I was little I wanted to do something in the military,'' said Vorvick, 29, of his decision.

He became part of the 682nd Engineers Battalion, Charlie Company, based in Redwood Falls.

He joined with expectations that it would help him obtain the training and education to pursue a career. He was working at a local implement dealership at the time, and intended to become a mechanic.

His experience in the Guard changed his whole direction in life.

During much of 2003 and 2004, the Redwood Falls unit was deployed to Kosovo. The troops went overseas as combat engineers, but served as a police force in a peacekeeping role.

Vorvick discovered that he enjoyed it. After returning home, he enrolled at the Alexandria Technical and Community College and graduated from its law enforcement program. He joined the Dawson Police Department as an officer and one year ago, became a sheriff's deputy with Lac qui Parle County.

He is also now part of the West Central SWAT unit.

In his law enforcement work, Vorvick often sees the consequences of depression and mental health problems faced by others, including veterans. He steers them to the appropriate help.

He's a member of the Dawson Volunteer Fire Department, and often volunteers to lead fire safety programs in the elementary school. He also teaches gun safety in the local schools.

He works with youth through the DARE program as well, helping to host dances and other events for middle school youth.

He's also active with local veterans organizations and the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign in Lac qui Parle County.

He married his high school sweetheart in 2003. Together, they have two sons, ages 9 and 5. Stephanie Vorvick is also a veteran, as is her father, who served with Nick Vorvick in Kosovo.

Vorvick was honorably discharged in 2008. He said he enjoyed his time in the military. It's a hardship to be separated from family while deployed, but Vorvick said the close friendships formed among those in his unit helped compensate. "You are away from you family but you're with another family,'' he said.

Early to enlist, and remaining ready to serve

Jonathan Steinbach joined the Minnesota National Guard at 17 and prior to his graduation from Granite Falls High School. He and two friends signed up together a couple of months prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Steinbach, 29, said one a key factor in his decision to enlist was the compensation through the GI Bill that military members can use to pursue a degree.

He served with the 682nd Engineers Battalion based in Redwood Falls and deployed with Nick Vorvick in the 2003-2004 peacekeeping mission to Kosovo.

On St. Patrick's Day in Kosovo, he and his platoon members were hanging out in their rooms when the call came that riots were breaking out across the country.

In short order, Steinbach and six other troops formed a line across a roadway and kept roughly 300 Albanians from entering a Serbian village. There were hostile words and chants, and Steinbach later discovered the men in the group were armed with Molotov cocktails.

Steinbach completed a second deployment in Kuwait in 2011-12. He served on a convoy security team that made multi-day excursions into Iraq, mainly to retrieve materials from bases.

"It was just like you opened your oven,'' said Steinbach of what it was like exiting the plane that brought him to Kuwait.

Today, he is a sergeant and serves as a combat engineer with Charlie Company of the 1st/34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion.

He is a full-time student, having recently completed the first year of a two-year computer support technician program at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls. He has maintained a perfect grade point average.

He also works part time at Chandler Industries in Montevideo

His wife, Angie, is the economic development director in Montevideo. He often volunteers to help community events, and is active too in local veterans organizations and events. As part of the local honor guard, he represents local veterans at parades and other events, including the inauguration of the community's new veteran memorial.

Yet most of the volunteer work he performs is rarely seen in public. His computer skills are often called on by fellow soldiers. He's rescued digital photographs from the malfunctioning laptops of soldiers returning from deployment and helped many others having more mundane problems with their computers.

It's not always local soldiers calling on him for computer assistance, either.

He is credited with saving the city of Montevideo thousands of dollars by developing its social media sites.

His nominees stated: "Jonathan has made exceptional contributions to his community and to his country ....''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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