Veterans advocate to give keynote

‘I want to pass on what little I have discovered that can make their lives easier’

Veterans advocate to give keynoteBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“War is Hell,” said Civil War Union Army General William Sherman. Many veterans of war have experienced nightmares most United States citizens can’t even imagine. But coming back to “normal life” from war is still its own trauma for many veterans. That’s where people like Josh Dhanens, our keynote speaker for the Parade of 1000 Flags, step in to help service men and women adjust to civilian life.

Dhanens, an Army veteran who served in Bosnia-Herzgovina and Iraq, works for Kern County Veterans Services Department where he works to improve the lives of veterans throughout Kern County.

“I like to think my advocacy makes the lives of veterans better,” said Dhanens. “Whether that means reducing stress that comes from dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs, or just being a sounding board for a fellow veteran who needs to vent – I want to help others make the transition back to civilian life as easy as possible.”

Dhanens was born just over the mountains in Porterville, Calif., then spent his formative years in Fresno where he graduated from Clovis West High School.

He enlisted as a soldier in the United States Army in 1996. He was initially stationed at Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., and later in Mannheim, Germany, from where he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina. After completing his tour, he joined the California Army National Guard which landed him in Iraq in 2003.

His service earned him Bronze Heart and Purple Star medals before he left the military in 2005 to call Kern County his home.

He graduated from California State University Bakersfield, where he met his now-wife Angela, in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a minor in political science.

After earning his master’s degree in 2010, he pursued a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma, but circumstances brought him back to California and his current position with the county in 2012.

Dhanens said he’d like to think he was inspired to enlist or to serve his country by relatives – but described himself as a typical high school kid who just didn’t know what to do after he graduated.

“I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test because it got me out of three classes one afternoon,” he said. “I selected the military police for the Army because it was the ‘coolest’ job I was offered.

“While my motivation to enlist doesn’t make for a great story, I think it was indicative of many of us who enlisted prior to September 11.”

Even if it “doesn’t make for a great story,” Dhanens’s experience equipped him to help countless others who are inevitably called to face war.

“We ask a lot from our service men and women,” he said. “We train them to do amazing, dangerous, complicated tasks. But there is little done to help them when their service is over. I want to pass on what little I have discovered that can make their lives easier.”

Dhanens is also a member of the steering committee for the Kern County Veterans Collaborative and is a board member for the Armed Forces Support Foundation, a Bakersfield-based veterans support organization.

“It can be challenging to balance home life and work life, especially when your work life bleeds into your home life. But I don’t stop being a veteran when I clock out at the end of the day. And I don’t stop wanting to help my brothers and sisters obtain the benefits they’ve earned when that whistle blows.”

Story First Published: 2017-09-08