Tag Archives: Bellevue University

Battling the Effects of Fatherlessness

May 30, 2014 by

Tunette Powell is a local inspirational speaker, writer, and mother who is now guiding those affected by fatherlessness.

It’s a journey she knows all too well.

“My father was addicted to drugs,” Powell says, “and I grew up with my single mother. She had a limited education, so we struggled. It was very, very tough. My father was in and out of prison. If he wasn’t in prison, he was on the streets using drugs.”

Originally from San Antonio, Powell spent much of her childhood in trouble as well. From being kicked out of daycare to skipping many classes her senior year of high school, Powell went through it all. She graduated only by paying a fine and making up skipped days in Saturday classes.

The pattern continued after she graduated.

“I made a lot of reckless decisions, dropped out of college for awhile, and just kind of struggled to find my way,” she says. “But then I started writing. I got with some guys that were doing hip hop music, and I wrote about my father and how much it hurt me. I started connecting the pieces. All this time, a lot of my struggles were because I didn’t have my father. Because I didn’t see the connection there, I didn’t see that it mattered so much that I didn’t have him.”

The song that she wrote and the revelation that went along with the experience led her to the work she is doing now. Powell functions as CEO of The Truth Heals, a program that focuses on helping women and youth affected by fatherlessness find hope and healing. The program, which is getting off the ground through Powell’s nationwide motivational speaking on the topic, hosted its first six-week workshop in April.

The workshop focused on middle and high school girls growing up without fathers. It also catered to the single mothers who raise them.

“We want to show them that there is hope,” Powell says. “So there’s this idea that we cannot replace a father—and we know that—but what we can do is equip single mothers with the resources that they need to be able to stand in that gap.”

Based around the idea of “daddyless to destiny,” Powell hopes the workshops show these children and their single parents that they can still make it. Self-awareness, depersonalization, releasing, capacity building, and sustainability are all key elements of The Truth Heals programs.

“The biggest piece for us is that we feel you have to tell your story, let it go, and create a new story to tell,” Powell says of the method they like to call “TLC.”

Powell says it’s about doing what they can to help the kids create that new story.
Before the workshop became reality, the people at The Truth Heals offered and will continue to offer other services to single parents. Community donations allowed the organization to take five families shopping for kids’ holiday gifts. They’re doing Mother’s Day Makeovers for single moms and helping families with such out-of-pocket expenses as graduation caps and gowns and letterman’s jackets. Powell also does one-on-one mentoring with single parents and those affected by fatherlessness. Their goal is to help anyone that comes to them, no matter the age or situation.

To make all of this possible, The Truth Heals partners closely with many community organizations, including Teddy Bear Hollow, CP3O, Bellevue University, and Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare.
One of the major partnerships The Truth Heals has in place is with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. UNO has been responsible for helping spread awareness of the issue of fatherlessness through theater productions, their branch of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), and through individual help from professors.

Natalie Smith, a junior at UNO, got involved with The Truth Heals as an education specialist because of her mother, an academic advisor at UNO who is also helping the organization.

“My mom was a single mother,” Smith says. “I can automatically relate to the program in general and I feel a strong pull towards helping youth.”

Smith has been instrumental in coming up with continuing education ideas for youth after the six-week workshops end, as well as brainstorming other ways to help kids succeed in school. One focus is tutoring.

“We want them to have a place to come that’s close to home so they don’t have to travel too far, so we want to do it at the local libraries in their neighborhoods, in every part of town,” Smith says. “There’s a library in North Omaha, South Omaha, central … there’s a library, thank goodness, in every area, so we want them to be able to come to the library, have set hours, and be able to study, get tutoring, extra help, anything you need to get focused.”

The Truth Heals is a community effort. According to Powell, two thirds of the children in North Omaha are growing up without a father.

“We know that it’s a problem, we know that people are hurting, we know that the statistics show us that these kids are going to have to beat the odds, but we want to make beating the odds the norm,” Powell says. “So that’s why we need to put this in place. It’s about the community
coming together.”

Powering Across the Finish Line

January 6, 2014 by

It was man versus machine. An epic competition of tug-o-war. A true test of physical and mental strength. An all-out battle to the finish line where everyone who competed was a winner.

On May 18, Performance Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Bellevue hosted a truck pull for charity. Six local teams pulled heavyweight Ram trucks, competing to raise money for their favorite charities. The dealership gave away more than $4,000 in cash prizes at its first annual Performance Community Truck Pull. The grand prize of $1,500 went to the wrestling team from Bellevue East High School. The team raised money to support the costly medical treatments for their fellow East graduating senior, Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last year.

Tyrone Williams, president and general manager of Performance, says the concept for the truck pull was devised by his managers and Carroll Communications. “We are having discussions about this being an annual event. I was looking for an event to introduce the dealership to the Bellevue community as well support the community,” he says. In a family-friendly atmosphere that boasted food, fun, and face painting, the dealership encouraged the community to not only support their favorite competing team but also to simply take a look around the new facility.

The team from Bellevue East High School pulls a 2500 Ram truck at the Performance Bellevue dealership to raise money for graduating senior Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma last year. East Principal Brad Stueve runs alongside the team cheering them on.

The team from Bellevue East High School pulls a 2500 Ram truck at the Performance Bellevue dealership to raise money for graduating senior Jake Pannell, who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma last year. East Principal Brad Stueve runs alongside the team cheering them on.

Performance ensured that none of the six competing teams walked away empty handed. Teams included Bellevue University, Bellevue East High School, Bellevue West High School, Bellevue Community Foundation, Offutt Police, and Bellevue Fire and Police. “The turnout was excellent, and the store donated over $4,200 to the charities. Carroll Communications, the Bellevue Chamber, and Mayor Rita Sanders were very instrumental in helping us pull the event off,” Williams says.

Matt Briggs, head coach of men’s soccer at Bellevue University, says he was grateful that his team competed in such a charitable cause. “We raised money for the Wounded Warrior Family Support group and raised $750,” he shares.

The Bellevue Community Foundation also competed, winning $250 to support the city of Bellevue. Mayor Sanders says she was thrilled with the funds raised and equally excited that they would be going toward the newly created Bellevue Community Foundation. “It came about through the City of Bellevue strategic plan,” she says. “I was tasked to start a community foundation so we can help the community raise money individually or privately. The Community Foundation can help aid with some of the support systems through the city.”

Phil Hawkins’ Geometric Prisms

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Phil Hawkins’ unique worldview is on display in the flowing lines and organic contours of his art. It’s a philosophy that even comes through in the simple choice of materials he uses to bring his ideas to life.

The 30-year-old artist’s subtly colored drawings and paintings are filled with intersecting lines and two- and three-dimensional shapes that leap off the page. His sculptures and installations, crafted from PVC, wood, and cardboard, are patterns of geometric prisms meticulously built from pieces Hawkins cuts. He either hand-paints or covers the pieces with reflective and holographic foils that seem to burst off of each form.

The majority of Hawkins’ sculptures and installations currently use rough materials, like corrugated cardboard, as a primary medium. While most people would throw similar pieces of cardboard away without a second thought, Hawkins chooses to give these materials new life. Even within his downtown basement studio, he exhibits his symbiotic relationship with the resources around him, with the creation of several functional dividing screens he handmade from old doors, carpet remnants, poles, and Velcro.

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“The way I feel about my surroundings and life in general and the environment—how everything is connected in the world—I feel like that shows through some of my work,” Hawkins says.

Consider his 18-x-7-foot installation wall of shimmering diamonds pieced together from small triangles he cut from cardboard and painted. This is a reflection of personal space and environment. And his paintings—incorporating intersecting lines, contours, and layered two- and three-dimensional shapes—are influenced by the world he sees. “I feel like it all has a circulation. It all functions together. It all has a relationship that means something a little deeper than what it looks. Looking between the lines and trying to see what’s really going on, past all the complicated structures and lines of symmetry: It might be geometric and might be a style, but there’s a little bit more of a life form to it,” Hawkins says.

Hawkins, an Omaha native, earned an associate’s degree in graphic arts from Metropolitan Community College and a bachelor’s degree in arts management from Bellevue University. He went on to complete an internship under artist and co-founder of Hot Shops Art Center, Leslie Bruning. His method, however, is self-discovered and self-taught.

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His unique style of art was cultivated from his exploration of the contemporary art world and his personal need to satiate his own curiosity. “When it comes to where ideas start for me, a geometric approach is very natural. I just see all of that. It comes out of me as something I’m interested in seeing more of on a scale that I have not seen elsewhere.”

Over the past three years, Hawkins has honed in on his particular brand of art, and since then, he says, his life has changed greatly. “I’ve found my own style, which I think makes sense to me and is very pure.”

Those that know Hawkins closely agree that his energy exudes from his work, including his mentor of three years, Bruning. “I’d say Phil takes a humble approach to his art, and it works well with his personality,” Bruning says. “When a person works within their personality, they’re so much more progressive in what they do. If you are true to your nature, you can be an artist forever.”

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Hawkins says he doesn’t see himself doing anything else and plans on being in Omaha for a long time. “I’m learning how art can apply to the people in the community, and I couldn’t be happier with how that’s turned out.” He mentions his excitement over an upcoming project with the Creighton Lied Center with their center for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“I want my art to have a message people can take away or inspire them, or it can even be a conversation and alter or change their mood. A successful piece of art can have a conversation when the artist isn’t there. I think when someone talks about your work, that’s success in itself.”

Iraq War Vet Jacob Hausman Battles PTSD and Finds Peace

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Scott Drickey

Growing up in Beatrice, Neb., Jacob “Jake” Hausman harbored a childhood dream of serving in the U.S. military. Both his grandfathers and an uncle served. He volunteered for the Army in 2002 and upon completing the rite of passage known as basic training, he finally realized his long-held dream. He made it as an infantryman, too, meaning he’d joined the “hardcore” ranks of the all-guts-and-no-glory grunts who do the dirty work of war on the ground.

By the time his enlistment ended three years later, Hausman earned a combat service badge during a year’s deployment in Iraq. He participated in scores of successful missions targeting enemy forces. He saw comrades in arms, some of them close friends, die or incur life-threatening wounds. He survived, but there were things he saw and did he couldn’t get out of his mind. Physical and emotional battle scars began negatively impacting his quality of life back home.

Headaches. Ringing in the ears. Dizziness. Nightmares. Panic attacks. Irritability. Depression. Anxiety. Certain sounds bothered him. He felt perpetually on edge and on high alert, as if still patrolling the hostile streets of Mosul or Fallujah. With his fight-or-flight response system stuck in overdrive, he slept only fitfully.

A relationship he started with a woman ended badly. He lived in his parents’ basement, unemployed, isolating himself except for beer-soaked nights out that saw him drink to oblivion in order to escape or numb the anguish he felt inside. No one but his fellow vets knew the full extent of his misery.

With things careening out of control, Hausman sought professional help. Hardly to his own surprise, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anyone who’s endured trauma is prone to develop it. Sustained exposure to combat makes soldiers particularly vulnerable. Not all combat veterans are diagnosed with PTSD, but nearly one-third are.

What did surprise Hausman was learning he’d suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In retrospect, it made sense because the Stryker combat vehicle he was in absorbed an IED (improvised explosive device) blast that knocked him unconscious. Studies confirm ever-stronger charges like that one caused many more such injuries as the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts wore on. Injuries of this type often went undetected or unreported in the past.

“In combat and war, no one’s playing music in the background. It’s not passionate; it’s pure survival instincts.” – Jacob Hausman

It was because of these diagnoses that Hausman became a casualty among returning veterans. Some estimates put their numbers with PTSD and/or TBI at a quarter of a million. Statistics alone don’t tell the story. In each case, an individual experiences disruptive symptoms that make adjusting to civilian life difficult. The suicide rate among this group is high.

The scope of this health care crisis has strained U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ resources. In some locales, benefit claims are months behind schedule. Nebraska’s VA system has largely kept pace with demand. Hausman’s own claim was expedited quickly. He was found to be 90 percent disabled.

Six years after starting a VA treatment regimen of counseling and medication to address his PTSD issues, along with physical therapy to mitigate his TBI symptoms, his life has turned around. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bellevue University. He’s gainfully employed today as a veterans service representative at the Lincoln VA. He also does outreach work with vets. He recently married the former Kendra Koch of Beatrice, and the couple reside in a home in Papillion.

They adopted a Lab-Golden Retriever mix dog, Lucy, from a rescue animal shelter. Kendra’s an animal lover like Jacob, who with his mother, Gayla Hausman, and his friend, Matthew Brase, own and operate the foundation Voice for Companion Animals.

Throughout his active duty Army tenure, Jake carried inside his Kevlar helmet a photo of his favorite adolescent companion, a Chihuahua named Pepe. Not long after Jake’s return from Iraq, the dog took sick and had to be put down.

Jacob and Kendra are seriously considering starting a family.

Emotional and physical challenges persist for him, but he now has tools to manage them. No longer stuck in the past, he lives one day at a time to the fullest and looks ahead to realizing some dreams. Contentment seemed impossible when he was in the depths of his malaise. His is only one man’s story, but his recovery illustrates PTSD and TBI need not permanently debilitate someone.

He’s certainly not the same Jake Hausman who joined the Army a decade ago. “I came back a completely different person. I had so much life experience,” he says. Good and bad. If nothing else, it matured him. His views on the military and war have changed. He’s not bitter, but he is wizened beyond his 28 years, and he wants people to know just how personal and final the cost of waging war is. He also wants fellow vets to know the VA is their friend.

Jacob, age 7, playing soldier at his childhood home in Beatrice, Neb. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

Jacob, age 7, playing soldier at his childhood home in Beatrice, Neb. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

Soldier Boy

Like a lot of young people, Hausman had a romantic view of soldiering. He saw it as a ticket out of his small town to find thrills and see the world.

“People live in Beatrice for a 100 years. It’s like my grandpa lived here, my mom lived here, and I’m going to live here, and I didn’t want that for myself. I struggled at school, I didn’t succeed, I was in trouble with the law, I didn’t have a bright future. And the Army at least promised adventure, intrigue. I just thought, Gosh, I want to be part of a story that can be told from generation to generation. I want to be part of something greater than myself.

“I didn’t feel connected [before]. I mean, I was social, I had friends and so forth, but I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere and I really craved that. I craved being a part of something bigger than what I was, and [the infantry] really gave it to me.”

You might assume the catalyst for his enlistment was the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but you’d be wrong. Long before then he’d made up his mind, he would enlist as soon as he could. He wanted it so badly that he was only 17 when the Army took him with his parents’ written consent. He completed high school early.

“I craved being a part of something bigger than what I was, and [the infantry] really gave it to me.” – Hausman

“Since I was like 5 years old, I wanted to be a part of the infantry. My mom’s father was in the infantry during the Korean War, and that’s why I ultimately joined. So I was always allured by the infantry because they’re the hardest, the best, the whole thing. I was beyond motivated.

“The struggle, the fight, well, that’s all true. You actually get to experience those things, and it’s not pretty and glorified. What I always tell people is that in combat and war, no one’s playing music in the background. It’s not passionate; it’s pure survival instincts. And when you’re in those situations, you’re not doing it for the flag. You’re doing it for your friend to the left and right of you.”

He couldn’t know the hard realities of war before experiencing it. He only thought about the excitement, the camaraderie, the tradition.

“Well, I got all those things, and I got a little bit more than I bargained for.”

Jacob, age 20, ready for action in Fallujah, Iraq, 2004. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

Jacob, age 20, ready for action in Fallujah, Iraq, 2004. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

You’re in the Army Now

His service almost got shelved before getting started. Weeks before leaving for basic training, he and some friends were out cruising Beatrice in his car. Open alcohol containers were within plain view when they got pulled over by local police. Jake was behind the wheel. Already on probation for underage-drinking violations, Hausman “freaked out” and fled the scene. He later turned himself in. Authorities could have used the pending charges to prevent him from going into the Army. A probation officer became his advocate.

“She went above and beyond for me,” he says. “She saw something in me and just really pushed for me and got it dropped. Two weeks later, I left [for basic]. About three years later when I came back, I told her what that meant to me and who I am now because of it. If it wasn’t for her, this story would have never happened.”

So off he went for the adventure of his life. Rude awakenings came early and often at Fort Benning, Ga., for this “spoiled only-child” who’d never done his own laundry.

“You grow into a man really fast. It kicked my ass.” Mental and physical toughness are required of infantrymen, and he had no choice but to steel himself for its rigors.

“You adapt fast or you suffer,” he says, “and I was one who adapted fast. The infantry is so hard. There’s a lot of hazing. It’s survival of the fittest.”

Hazing and all, he says, “I thought basic training was the best thing I’ve ever done. The reason why it was powerful for me is that it was all about the mission. There was no individualism; we were all a team. I really loved that.

“You grow into a man really fast. It kicked my ass.” – Hausman

“My master’s is in leadership, where the focus is on what can you do for the team, and that’s what the infantry is. No matter if you show up with a shaved head or dreadlocks, you get your head shaved. No matter if you’re clean-shaven or you have a beard, you get your face shaved. It’s just part of it. They strip you down to your very bare minimum, and it’s all about coming together as a team, being a man, learning how to get along with others, and learning different cultures.

“You’re talking about someone who, as a kid, had one black person in his class and now I had blacks, Hispanics, [and] Jamaicans in my barracks. I’d never dealt with that. I learned so much from other people; it was fantastic. They treated me like everyone else, I treated them like everyone else.”

Infantry training is largely about endurance. “The whole infantry thing is walking and running while carrying a 50- to 75-pound rucksack,” he says. “Can you walk a long ways with all that weight?”

Before making it into the infantry, one must pass a final crucible. Hausman recalls it this way: “They have this legendary walk that’s like 25 miles of water, hills, and so forth. It’s like your final capstone test at the very end. You know you’re an infantryman if you pass this thing. It’s hell on earth. I had to duct tape my thighs so they wouldn’t rub together. You walk through a river, and your feet are wet. One entire foot was rubbed raw. I mean, it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done.

“It’s just a whole mental thing—Can you get through the pain? It was so great getting that done. I was so proud.”

He then joined his unit in Fort Lewis, Wash., to await deployment. He says everything there was even more intense than at Fort Benning—the training, the hazing, the brotherhood, the partying. He felt he’d truly found his calling. “I became very good at being an infantryman. You really felt a part of the team; you bonded. I mean, you just had a lot of brothers.”

He says the drills he and his mates did in the field, including playing realistic war games, made them into a cohesive fighting force.

“We were a killing machine.”

Jacob, right, receiving his Combat Infantry Badge from Lieutenant Blanton in Mosul, Iraq, 2004. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

Jacob, right, receiving his Combat Infantry Badge from Lieutenant Blanton in Mosul, Iraq, 2004. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

Desert War

A downside to barracks life, he says, is all the alcohol consumption. “Drinking is the culture—I’m talking excessively. In the military, you’re drinking hard liquor, and you’re just drinking till you curl up. That’s the path that started going bad for me there.” But a substance abuse problem was the least of his worries once in Iraq in 2003.

His company was assigned to the new Stryker Brigade, which took its name from the 8-wheel Stryker combat vehicle. “Something in-between a Humvee and a tank,” Hausman describes it. “After Somalia, our brass decided we needed a vehicle that could put infantry in the city, let us do our thing, and get us out fast.”

It carried a crew of six.

“We built cages [of slat armor] on the outside to stop RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades).” The cages proved quite effective. However, Strykers had a problem with rollovers, a defect Hausman would soon experience to his horror.

“We had a lot of good intelligence from special forces initially. Every day, we would kick someone’s door down and take out a terrorist. We’d either arrest him, kill him, do whatever. We killed a lot of bad guys.

“Once the intelligence stopped, we kind of ran out of operations to do.” Then his squad’s duty consisted of doing presence patrols. “It basically was to show the Iraqis we were around, but in all reality, it was walk around until we got shot at so we could kill [the shooters].”

Draw fire, identify target, engage.

“You’re still seeing a human being face-to-face; you’re still pulling a trigger on someone; you still have that you’re-dead-or-I’m-dead reality. You cannot shake that experience.” – Hausman

Hausman was a specialist as the squad’s designated marksman. “I had an extra weapon—a snipe rifle. I’d go out with the snipers, and we’d do recon on special missions,” he explains. “We’d take fire here and there, but we’d maybe only get in a firefight every three weeks.”

He was part of a Quick Reaction Force unit that responded within minutes to crises in the field. That sometimes meant coming back from a long operation only to have to go right back out without any sleep.

“Once, we got into an 18-hour firefight when we were called to secure two HET (Heavy Equipment Transporters) vehicles hit by RPGs and abandoned by their transportation team. It was a residential district in Mosul. We got there and RPGs start blasting and IEDs started popping. It was just an ambush. The enemy had us surrounded 360 degrees. We were pinned down taking gunfire. This was life or death. At a certain point, you’re not thinking; it’s pure survival animal instinct.

“I turned the corner at a T-intersection, and there were muzzle flashes from windows. There were four of us versus about six muzzle flashes. It was just who could kill who fastest. A guy came across the roof, and I fired my 203 grenade launcher, BOOM, dead. A squad member got shot and paralyzed. Another got wounded by an RPG, his intestines spilling out. He was EVAC’d out.”

He says in situations like these you confront the question: “Are you really committed to killing another human being? And I have killed another person.” Despite today’s automatic weapons, he says, “You’re still seeing a human being face-to-face; you’re still pulling a trigger on someone; you still have that you’re-dead-or-I’m-dead reality. You cannot shake that experience.”

In the aftermath of such intense action, he says, “You’re hiked up; you can’t sleep.” Indeed, he “couldn’t let down” for his entire nine months in Iraq. “You just can’t let your guard down.” Even on leave back home, he was so conditioned by threats that “driving back from the airport,” he recalls, “I was looking for IEDs on the road, scanning the roofs for snipers.” When he could finally release the pent-up stress, he slept three straight days.

From left: Specialist Mower, Specialist Crumpacker, and Specialist Hausman, 19, in Samarra, Iraq, 2003. The photo was taken the day after the horrific Stryker accident that killed three soldiers. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

From left: Specialist Mower, Specialist Crumpacker, and Specialist Hausman, 19, in Samarra, Iraq, 2003. The photo was taken the day after the horrific Stryker accident. Photo provided by Jacob Hausman.

A Tragic Accident

As bad as firefights got, Hausman says, “The worst thing I’ve experienced in my life occurred about a month after I got to Iraq.” It didn’t involve a single gunshot or explosion either. It was his turn operating the Stryker. His team, followed by another in a second Stryker, were on a muddy backroad near Samarra heading to do recon. A ravine on their side of the road led to a canal. Suddenly, the road gave way and both Strykers overturned into the canal. The ensuing struggle haunts him still.

“We’re upside down, water starts running in, it’s miserable cold. I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s over.’”

He recalls hearing his father’s voice telling him not to panic.

“I don’t know how I got the hatch open, I just muscled it, and the water rushed in. I took a deep breath and went down in it. My body got pinned between the ground and the vehicle. I’m struggling, I’m drowning. I thought, ‘Is this how I’m going to die?’ I escaped from the bottom somehow and got on the side,”…only to find himself trapped again. He began swallowing water.

“My body got pinned between the ground and the vehicle. I’m struggling, I’m drowning. I thought, ‘Is this how I’m going to die?’” – Hausman

“I looked up and I could kind of see the moon. I started clawing, clawing, clawing, and gasping for air. I made it. I gathered my thoughts, climbed on the vehicle, and saw one of my buddies had gotten flung out. We went to the back,” where they found their mates trapped below, desperate for escape. “We were all fighting to get the hatch open. It was just terrible. We get the hatch open, and everyone’s there.”

A roll call accounted for all hands. Except in the rush to get out, a team member got “trampled over” and drowned. “We got his body out and did CPR, but it was five minutes too late.”

Hausman was “really good friends” with the lost squad member, Joseph Blickenstaff.

The driver and the squad leader in the second vehicle also died. Hausman was friends with the driver, J. Riverea Wesley. Staff Sergeant Steven H. Bridges was the squad leader lost that day.

Assessing what happened, Hausman says, “It was chaos; it was tragedy. That really shattered me for a while. I won’t let it ruin my life—I’ll go swimming and stuff—but it was just traumatic. It is hard to deal with—getting over it. There’s some parts of it I will never get over.”

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The Aftermath Comes Home

War being war, there’s no time or support for processing tragedy and trauma. “It was shove everything inside, shut up, move forward,” says Jake. Those unresolved feelings came tumbling out like an “avalanche” when he got back home in 2004.

“I was just a trainwreck. I was miserable, destroyed. My emotions ran wild. I couldn’t sleep. I was just so anxious. I couldn’t take deep breaths, I would sniff, just like a dog panting. Like a 24-hour panic attack. You’re uncomfortable being you every second of the day. You’re not in control, and that’s what you’re afraid of. Just freaking out about stuff. I was so afraid at night I would get up nine or 10 times and check the lock on my door. The nightmares are incredible.”

Excessive drinking became his coping mechanism. The more he drank, the more he needed to drink to keep his demons at bay. “You’re in a vicious cycle, and you can’t get out of it,” he says.

“At one point, I contemplated suicide because I was like, ‘What is the point of living when I am this bad, this miserable? Is it ever going to get better than this?’”

His family saw him unraveling.

“Mom and Dad were worried, deathly worried, but they didn’t know how to handle it. They didn’t know if it was a stage or my turning 21. They didn’t know what to do with me.”

“Usually in this population, patients turn to drinking or to other substance abuse and the number one reason they tell me they do it is because they can’t sleep or to fight off nightmares,” says Omaha VA social worker Heather Bojanski. “They don’t want to come in for help, they don’t want medication, and drugs and alcohol are easy to get a hold of. They’d rather try to cope themselves before they come in for help or actually have to face [that] there is a problem.”

Omaha VA Hospital counselor Heather Bojanski.

Omaha VA Hospital social worker Heather Bojanski.

Jim Rose, a mental health physician’s assistant with the Lincoln VA, says recovery has to start with someone recognizing they have a problem and wanting to deal with it. “If they’re still reluctant to accept that as a problem, then it makes it very difficult. Help’s out there, but it is difficult with this group who by nature tend to be more self-reliant and have the world by the shoulders, and then to have something like this happen kind of turns things upside down.”

There’s no set timetable for when PTSD might present in someone.

“They’re all on a continuum,” says Bojanski. “Two veterans can come back who have seen and been through the same exact thing, and one will seem perfectly fine and the other may immediately start struggling. That all depends on a few things—what was going on in their life when they came back, and how much family support they have. It’s all going to depend on them and their family and what’s going on and how honest they are with themselves.

“If they come back and they have great family support and their family’s in tune and really watching them, then they’ll do well. But if nobody’s really paying attention and they’re just doing their own thing and they start isolating and drinking, then those are big issues to look at and people really need to encourage them to come in.”

Hausman says, “There’s a threshold of stress. It’s going to come out eventually if you don’t take care of it. For me, it came out real early. I was a boy; I was not equipped for getting used up in the war machine.”

“[Some veterans] would rather try to cope themselves before they come in for help or actually have to face [that] there is a problem.” – Heather Bojanski, social worker

Rose says PTSD tends to be suppressed among active duty military because they’re in a protective environment around people with similar experiences. But once separated from the military, it becomes a different matter.

“They feel isolated, and the symptoms will probably intensify,” he says. “It’s usually a couple years after discharge people reach a point where they just can’t cope with it anymore and something’s going to happen—they’re going to get in trouble or they’re going to ask for help, and that’s when we see them.”

That’s how it was for Hausman, who concealed the extent of his problems from family and friends and tried coping alone.

“I didn’t want to burden them with that…My friends, they thought it was just old Jake because I’m a partier, I’m gregarious, so they enjoyed it. But they didn’t see the dark side of it. They didn’t understand the mega-depression and anxiety. When I was drunk, I could shield it.

“But there’s usually one or two people in your life that know you. Robert Engel is probably my best friend to this today. He was in my unit. He lives in Kansas City, Mo. He recognizes when I’m down; I recognize when he’s down. We kind of pick each other up. He’s seen me at my lowest point but he accepts me for who I am, and I accept him for who he is, and we sincerely care about each other.”

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Getting Help

“When I decided I wasn’t going to kill myself, I resolved to figure this out,” says Jake. “I started reading spirituality, I started studying psychology.”

Most importantly, he sought help from the Veterans Administration. He and a fellow vet in Lincoln, Mike Krause, talked straight about what he needed to do. Like any vet seeking services, Hausman underwent screenings. He had all the classic symptoms of PTSD.

The intake process works the same for all vets. Bojanski says, “We sit down with each of them individually and decide what level of care they need.” In the case of Hausman, she says, “He came to the VA, and we started to treat him. Then when he started to take medication, he stopped drinking, and it was like an eye-opening experience to him that, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been suffering all this time.’ He started to go to groups, he talked to other people and realized, ‘Wow, I’m not the only one suffering.’ Other people he knew from his unit were going.”

Rose says the medications commonly prescribed for PTSD are “a mixed bag” in terms of effectiveness. He emphasizes, “There is no medication that cures these symptoms, but we have got things that can help people lead better lives, including anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.” To supplement the meds, he says, “We try to steer people to cognitive-therapy counseling.”

A holistic mind-body-spirit approach has worked for Hausman.

“That’s why exercise is important, counseling is important, and you have to supplement it with medication,” he says. “It’s not just a one trick pony. You can’t just throw some meds at someone and expect them to get better, you have to do all those things.”

Rose salutes Hausman and anyone who embraces recovery. “It’s a fairly lengthy process, and it involves commitment. It’s not a passive act. Jake’s a testament to people that, if you really want to get through it you can.”

Lincoln VA substance abuse counselor Mary Ann Thompson admires him for getting sober and “remaining clean and sober and productive.”

“He easily could have succumbed to all those issues and who knows where he’d be at now, but I’m so proud of him for moving forward.” – Kendra Hausman, Jacob’s wife

Bojanski sees a new Jake, saying, “He has a much better outlook on life. He’s very proactive.”

More than most, Kendra Hausman appreciates how far her husband’s come: “I’ve seen a lot less anxiety. Overall, he’s more calm, more level-headed, he’s able to handle situations better. He doesn’t get as angry or as worked up about small things like he used to. He easily could have succumbed to all those issues and who knows where he’d be at now, but I’m so proud of him for moving forward. He’s very determined. Once he puts his mind to doing something, he’ll get it done no matter what. He’ll figure out what he needs to do, just like he did with his school and career.”

Jacob, himself, says, “I’ve come a long ways. Life is so much better.” What he’s realized, he says, is “There are just some things you cannot [do with] will power; you just have to get help from people. I’ve had a lot of good people in my life that have helped me. And that’s what I’ve learned—you have to ask for help, you have to be willing to get help. The VA is there to help people. They’ve helped me so many times.”

Bojanski says the VA’s more responsive to veterans’ needs today. “The VA realized we did a lousy job welcoming Vietnam veterans back home, so when this war started, we wanted to be proactive and make sure we welcomed our veterans home. We didn’t want them to have a stigma with mental health, we wanted to make sure everything was in place. So we created these clinics (OEF or Operation Enduring Freedom and OIF or Operation Iraqi Freedom), where we work very hard with veterans. It’s very confidential, so not everybody in their unit is going to find out. We have an ER open 24 hours a day.

“It’s not like it used to be when you just had to soldier on, or if you reached out for help it wasn’t confidential.”

She says there isn’t as much stigma now about seeking mental health care.

“It’s getting better; we’re still not where we need to be, but I will say the armed forces, the Department of Defense, and our population in general are changing their views about that. We also do a lot of outreach, a lot of speaking to communities to make sure people are aware it’s okay to get help.”

Hausman does outreach himself as a way of giving back. He says when he addresses audiences of freshly returned vets, he commands their attention.

“They believe in me because I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and I’m working for the VA. I’m 90 percent service-connected; I’ve got a combat infantry badge. Seeing them is like seeing my reflection. I’m motivated to get them right before they take the wrong path. Someone got me over the hump, and I want to get them to that point, too. I want to help veterans get the services they need. It’s just so rewarding.”

Hausman with wife Kendra and dog Lucy.

The War that Never Ends, Moving on with Life

His PTSD still flare-ups now and then. “Recently, I had a little struggle for a while, but I didn’t fall back into the past because I’ve got good people in my life today.” He says he has combat veteran friends who still struggle because “they don’t have the support system.”

He accepts the fact he’ll always be dealing with the effects of war.

“There are some things I would change, but it’s made me who I am even with all the disabilities and struggles and everything I face. I think through all the suffering I’ve come to know peace. There’s some breaking points where you feel sorry for yourself and you have little pity parties, but then again I look around me and see what I have—a great support system, a wonderful wife.
It’s made me stronger.”

“I think through all the suffering I’ve come to know peace.” – Hausman

Finding Kendra, who works as a speech pathologist with the Omaha Public Schools, has been a gift. “She is the light of my life; she changed my life. Her enthusiasm for life is just breathtaking. She’s smart, beautiful, loving. She’s the greatest teacher in my life. She doesn’t need to understand everything I go through, but sometimes I need her to help me get through it.

“I was going through a low point, and she said something to me that no one else could say to me without offending me: ‘You got through war, now you can get through this, so suck it up.’ From her, that meant a lot. She knows me at that fundamental level to tell me what I need to hear sometimes. We’re really good together.”

Flareups or not, Jake’s moving on with life and not looking back.

If you have a concern about a veteran or want more information, call 402-995-4149. The VA’s local crisis hotline is 1-800-273-8255. For the latest findings on PTSD, visit ptsd.va.gov/aboutface.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Todd Schmaderer

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For a man who never thought he’d be a police officer, Todd Schmaderer’s career in law enforcement certainly has seen a meteoric rise. Omaha’s once interim police chief was selected from four applicants for the Chief of Police position this past August. As the new commander, he leads a force of 796 sworn officers and just over 1,000 employees total, oversees a budget of $119 million, and is responsible for the safety of the citizens living in the city’s 114 square miles.

It is a job he performs with pride. Chief Schmaderer is Omaha born and bred. A 1990 graduate of Roncalli Catholic High School, he attended Wayne State College in northeast Nebraska on a football scholarship his freshman year. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to prepare for a potential career in business. But while at UNO, he shifted academic gears and sought a degree in criminal justice with the original intention of pursuing the enforcement side of the IRS.

However, the allure of immediate job placement upon graduation was too enticing to pass up, and Schmaderer joined the Omaha Police Department. That was 18 years ago. Today, the man who once “walked the beat” is reaching out to community groups, other law enforcement agencies, and social services to build on the police department’s commitment to service.

One of his top priorities is a reduction in violent crime. Schmaderer seeks to emulate metro areas that have successfully addressed this pressing issue: “Police tactics need to be reflective of practices that work with other cities with similar problems.” But, he continues, Omaha’s solution cannot be an exact replica of Cincinnati’s or Boston’s approach, either; “We must tweak it to fit Omaha’s unique situation.”

He also believes that establishing a solid community-policing program will help address crime. Gone are the days of “an officer on every corner,” Schmaderer acknowledges. Social media, such as the police department’s Facebook page, can be instrumental in the exchange of information between the police and the community.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan.”

Communication with the city’s various neighborhood associations will also help Omaha police streamline its approach to crime prevention by allowing police to tailor its presence to a neighborhood’s particular need. Graffiti might be a primary concern for one neighborhood, whereas car break-ins might be uppermost on another area’s mind. Community groups are stakeholders in the problem, he asserts, and can play an integral role in crime reduction by identifying ways the police can serve them.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan,” asserts Schmaderer.

Reducing crime is also a shared responsibility with other city departments, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit and civic social service agencies. Poverty and lack of employment are two of the root causes of crime, he firmly maintains. Social services can play a significant role in crime prevention by intervening in potential offenders’ lives before they turn to crime as “a fix” for their problems.

Schmaderer takes the helm of the police department at a time when Omaha is experiencing great growth. He believes that “long-term planning is so important to keep up with this growth” so that expansion of the police department is commensurate with city expansion. He plans to increase staffing in the department’s gang and homicide units. He also will augment personnel in the cold case squad, an indication of his commitment to “never forgetting the victim.”

As Chief, Schmaderer may not have time to teach criminal justice classes at Bellevue University as he has done since 2010. Nor will he be able to coach his two children’s athletic teams. But he will continue to etch out opportunities to go for a run, spend time with his children, and enjoy free moments with his girlfriend, a sergeant with Omaha’s police force and whom Schmaderer describes as “my best friend and strongest supporter.”

Time-consuming and complex as his job is, this is where he wants to be. “At the end of the day, I am glad if I made a difference in the community and the people who work with me.”