National Guard Member Spearheads Efforts to Honor Veterans

“If it wasn’t for the sacrifice of people like these excellent individuals, where would we all be today? Because of their sacrifices, we can live free and make our own choices in life.”

SSG Ryan Emerson, Wisconsin National Guard

Wisconsin National Guard member Ryan Emerson decided he wanted to do something special to honor the sacrifices of veterans at Mineral Point Health Services

Emerson, along with three other Guard members – Karlos Plamann, Zach Feuchtenberger, and Xander Strahm – were stationed at Mineral Point Health as part of a statewide effort to help with staffing shortages in nursing homes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For nearly three months, the Guard members helped care for Mineral Point Health residents.

National Guard members at the veterans ceremony. From left to right, back row: Master Sgt. Peter Sodini USAF, SSG Shawn Wehner, Ryan Emerson, and Zach Feuchtenberger; and front row (kneeling): Karlos Plamann.

For Emerson, hearing the stories of war, honor, and bravery from the residents touched him deeply. He wanted to do more. To show his gratitude, Emerson helped coordinate a ceremony honoring four Mineral Point Health veterans with staff, family and friends present on March 10. Jamie Lenz-Stoney, Executive Director at Mineral Point Health, was extremely happy when she heard the Guard was willing and able to take time from their busy schedules to recognize the veterans.

“We recognize the veterans at our facility each year on Veterans Day, but they are deserving of this and so much more,” she said. “We are honored to have veterans that served our country residing at Mineral Point Health Services.”

At the ceremony, Emerson shared that staff and residents had welcomed the Guard members with open arms. “We were strangers, and you took us in like we were brothers, and that’s what the military is all about – that brotherhood and sisterhood,” he said. “I really do appreciate everything you did. You taught me a lot. You helped me grow.”

SSG Shawn Wehner presented James Erbach, Alfred Berrey (Navy) and Virgil Henkels (National Guard) with coins representing gratitude for their service. Resident Sherman Dammen served in the Army for 40 years, helping rehabilitate people suffering from alcoholism. Wehner presented him with a US flag, noting that Dammen was “an individual who really stood out” to Emerson.

National Guard ceremony for veterans at Mineral Point Health Services.

Master Sgt. Peter Sodini, USAF, an ordained minister, asked the residents to share how the Guard’s presence had brought them comfort and joy. One resident said that the Guard provided a lot of help to her when she could not do things on her own. Sodini said that the Guard’s assistance in nursing homes is not a normal mission, but it is one that has given the Guard an “opportunity to share love, patience, and kindness from ourselves to another human being.”

“I will say to the workers, you have been there,” Sodini said. “You are visiting the sick. You are working with the sick. You are providing dignity and respect for the people and so are our serviceman, our soldiers, and our airmen that are on this mission.”

Emerson will be deployed to Africa later this year but hopes to return to Mineral Point Health again. “I hope to continue in the future, whether working here or just coming to visit to shake your hands for many years to come,” he said.

Watch the ceremony video below.