Josh Van Strander - Graduate

Jun 16, 2011
Josh Van Strander
Josh Van Strander - Graduate

She was four or five years old at the most.

The little girl Josh Van Strander met during a routine patrol in Helmand, Afghanistan had been injured in a car accident. Someone had given her leg braces, but her parents had neither the money nor the wherewithal to follow up on her condition. She had been wearing the braces for months too long. Her legs were covered in welts, her knees were swollen and she suffered from a series of related complications.

Van Strander, a 20-year-old Army line medic, treated the girl with antibiotics and checked in on her over the days that followed. When the girl recovered, her father invited Van Strander to a banquet with village elders where he was presented with various gifts including an intricately sewn traditional Afghani girl’s dress. “He thought I must have children by the way I treated his daughter,” Van Strander recalls. “We didn’t have any issues in that area after that point.”

Helping people was nothing new for Van Strander. He was a licensed EMT and an experienced volunteer firefighter before he graduated from high school.

The upstate New York native served three years of active duty, including one tour in Afghanistan, where he helped clear roadside explosive devices and provided healthcare and other support to local residents. “It was a way of feeling like we were doing something productive,” Van Strander recalls of his community work. “These kids are running around barefoot when it’s 20 degrees out, and you’re able to give them shoes.”

When Van Strander left the Army in 2007, he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing loss and other health issues. He went to work with his father’s contracting business, but missed helping people more directly. “Through all that time I felt like something was missing.” Van Strander saw an opportunity after a friend told him about the Wounded Warrior Program.

As a district veterans services assistant for Rep. John Hall of New York, Van Strander handled casework and outreach. “It’s a chance to give veterans a stronger voice,” he said at the time. “I want them to know they have people on their side, people who have been through what they’ve been through or something similar.”

Van Strander chose to return to school full time when Hall lost his bid for re-election.