Iraq veteran hired as new assistant service officer
Luke Weinandt’s life has been a series of firsts. He was one of the first soldiers to be deployed to Iraq in 2003 and one of the first to return home, in 2005. He was the first veteran of the Iraq War to be hired by the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MAC-V), and now, he is the first assistant veterans’ service officer for Faribault County.
Weinandt works alongside Faribault County Veterans’ Service Officer Dave Hanson to provide veterans in the county with the guidance and assistance they need.
Weinandt grew up in Madison Lake, a city much like those one would find in Faribault County.
“I grew up rural; I’m a small-town kid and I think I share a lot of the same values as the people in Faribault County,” he said.
While living and attending high school in Madison Lake, Weinandt met his high school sweetheart, who was also his classmate and is now his wife.
“Molly and I were married just before I was sent out in 2003,” Weinandt said. “We wanted to do it before I left. I mean, if something would have happened to me, she wouldn’t have gotten anything.”
Molly works at Tri-City United in Le Center as a Speech Language Pathologist and the couple lives together in Mankato, the half-way point between Le Center and Blue Earth.
But, according to Weinandt, “our job never quits.”
Once they finally get home, after an hour drive, the couple spends time with their children, Max, who is three, and Emma, one.
Before he began his job in Faribault County, and after he graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in resource management and program planning, Weinandt was part of the search and rescue team at Yellowstone National Park.
However, it was not long before he returned home to Minnesota.
Upon arriving in his home state, Weinandt took a job as the regional program manager at MAC-V where he served the southern 40 counties in the state. While there, Weinandt was involved in implementing several programs for the veterans in his region. In Blue Earth County alone, he helped to build and plan the structure of the multi-county veterans court, supervised the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program and served as a lobbyist to advocate for the restructuring of the GI Bill.
“I’m just naturally very public service minded,” says Weinandt. “I’ve been building these skills and getting to know the ins and outs of all these programs. With my background and since I came home early, one of the first to come home, I know what kind of struggle these men and women have.”
Since he began his new position as assistant veterans’ service officer, Weinandt has been quite a bit more involved in actually speaking with the people he serves the veterans.
“I wasn’t working directly with the veterans as much anymore,” says Weinandt of his career at MAC-V. “I want to see them grow and be successful and I have to make sure that everybody has access to their benefits so they can become successful.”
Weinandt’s idea of a successful veteran is a man or woman who will never have to visit the Veterans’ Service Office again.
“We want to make sure that we can give them every resource they need in order to thrive, eventually without our help,” he says. “We don’t want to see veterans walk through that door again.”
When it comes to his ability to “keep it all together,” Weinandt says that he has been able to keep up with everything he does with “really good time management and self care.”
Weinandt says that from the time he gets home at night to the time that his kids fall asleep, all of his attention is focused on Max and Emma.
“I don’t take phone calls, I don’t take emails, I’m just dad from about 6 (p.m.) until 8:30,” he says.
Although he was honorably discharged in 2005, Weinandt still spends many of his weekends serving as an instructor for the Recruit Sustainment Program in the National Guard.
“This is a lifestyle, these are my guys and it’s part of who I am,” Weinandt says in regard to his ongoing involvement with the military.
According to Weinandt, he is most excited to begin implementing new programs for veterans and providing more resources in order to educate the vets in the county.
“I’m not the guy you call in to maintain a program,” he says. “We have ideas, we want to try new things and we will.”