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‘I just love helping people,’ Army vet says

Former Soldier earns annual state award

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:17PM July 21st, 2014
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Veronica Sandate Craker/Northwest Guardian

Jonathan Wagner was honored by the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs as 2013-14 Member of the Year. Wagner worked as the veteran's navigator at Clover Park Technical College.

The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs has named Clover Park Technical College’s veterans navigator Jonathan Wagner the 2013- 14 Vet Corps Member of the Year. Wagner was chosen out of the 53 veteran navigators across the country, who help service members with education and career goals. He said he was humbled upon learning of the award and credits his CPTC team for making him look good.

Wagner has served at the technical college for the past year. The Army veteran said he’s enjoyed his job and the work that he’s been able to do. “I just loved helping people transition,” Wagner said. “I’m a ‘boots on the ground’ kind of guy, I like the interaction.”

Hope Stout, CPTC Veteran Resource Center coordinator, said being a veterans navigator is often more than a full-time job, but no one is more dedicated than Wagner. “He is never off the clock when his guys need him for something,” she said.

Wagner said there were very few resources to guide service members to a career or education when he transitioned out of the military in 1997. Even so, he was able to earn his sociology degree from the University of Washington. But Wagner was careful not to compare his past issues and present successes when working with those in transition.

“I haven’t walked in their shoes; all experiences are different,” he said. “I’ve walked in similar shoes, but I don’t know what they are walking in unless they talk to me.” Wagner defines a “great navigator” as someone who does more than just assisting in enrollment or covering for tuition.

He believes they need to take on an active role in making sure all of their needs are met, even the ones outside of the classroom, he said.

“If we have a veteran who is about to go homeless, he steps right in and starts pulling resources,” Stout said. “He would be out there on the weekends helping them move.”

Too often Wagner sees service members who haven’t put a lot of planning into what they’ll do once they get out of the military. He said many times service members are dealing with family problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and financial issues. “A lot of the time people have their own issues and problems that they can’t deal with anything else,” Wagner said.

That’s why Wagner ensures his veterans have a place to stay and food to eat. And he’s often caught himself acting as a counselor.

“People don’t care what you know until they know you care,” Wagner said.

While Wagner has enjoyed his job, he’ll be saying goodbye to CPTC as he makes the move to St. Louis to be closer to his family.

“I’ve got to be honest, I kind of feel bad for the person who has to pick up where (Wagner) left off,” Stout said. “There’s nobody who has feet big enough to fill his shoes. I’m just hoping we can get someone in there who has the passion Jonathan has and makes it their own.”