Hayley Lynch


College: Social Work

Graduation Only Latest Victory for Iraq War Veteran

Published: May 6, 2011



To view a transcript of the video above, please click here.



A photo of Jonathan Herst and other soldiers in Iraq.
Jonathan Herst was serving in Mosul, Iraq in 2005 when he was injured by a roadside bomb. Pictured from left: Herst, Joseph Waln, Christopher Landry (in back) and Jeremy Anderson. Herst will graduate from UK May 8 with a master's degree in social work.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 6, 2011) − It has been eight years since Jonathan Herst jumped out of a C-17 aircraft on a moonless night over Irbil, Iraq as part of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade. Mountaintops exploded around him as Air Force F-16s dropped bombs to prevent the enemy from coming after Herst and his fellow soldiers. But as his parachute opened, Herst's pistol belt snapped, flinging his ammunition, compass and map into the darkness. He landed with only a weapon, 20 rounds of ammunition and rations with which to survive.


Herst did survive. But two years later, during his second tour of duty, he lost his leg to a roadside bomb in Mosul. He endured 17 surgeries, years of pain and rehabilitation, and continues to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So when Herst walks across the University of Kentucky's Commencement stage May 8 to accept his master's degree in social work, it may seem like an easy accomplishment compared to the challenges he has faced. But the degree is an important part of Herst's plans to support other wounded veterans.



A photo of Jonathan Herst and other soldiers in Iraq.
(Front to back) Jonathan Herst serves in Mosul, Iraq with Jeremy Anderson, Joseph Waln and Thomas Neal during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.

Paying it forward


Herst's injury in 2005 changed his life – including his career path. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in sports management from Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio before enlisting in the Army in 2001. A baseball and football player in college, he dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. But his injury and the long rehabilitation process that followed led him to another path.


"The rehabilitation process was long, to say the least, and it's still continuing to this day," Herst said. "I spent almost a year at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C."


Herst and other wounded veterans at Walter Reed had many high-profile visitors. George W. Bush came to Herst's room. But someone else had a greater impact on Herst during his time there.


"The one person who would come on a daily basis was the social worker," he said. "He's the one who really inspired me – what he said to me and did for me, to try to make my transition process easier. And he was doing this for every veteran that was there. It just really inspired me to become a social worker and get into that field. I knew I wanted to give back."


The master's degree Herst will receive is the first step in achieving this goal. After that, he'll work toward certification as a licensed clinical social worker, and toward becoming a therapist for military veterans and families. But Herst is already helping veterans in his full-time job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He moved to Kentucky to work at the VA in Lexington, and so his wife Veronica could be close to her family.


Herst assists veterans who have concerns with the facility or providers at the VA. He works not only with veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, but also veterans from other eras such as World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and all other conflicts.


"My goal is to continue to work with the veterans in this capacity," he said, "and then eventually work into the position of a therapist."



Today Herst works for the Department of Veterans Affairs. His goal is to become a therapist for veterans and their families.

Not a typical student


Herst's undergraduate experience was dominated by his love of sports. When he looks back on those years, he says he sometime regrets not focusing on his studies.


"I think the first time around, I let my life revolve around the sports, and the parties, and joining the fraternities," Herst remembered. "Doing the things that the normal 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kid does."


But after the life-changing experiences of two tours of duty in Iraq, and the physical and mental strain of his injuries, his second time in college has been different. He said his first challenge was trying to decide if he wanted to be a student at all.


"After being a veteran, after being in the military for five years, I didn't know how I would be accepted into the classroom again," he said. "I was older. I didn't know if I would be the old man in the classroom, trying to relate to 18- and 19-year-old freshmen. I knew it was a master's program, but I didn't know what to expect."


Herst said PTSD played a large role in his anxieties about returning to school. He wondered if he would be able to sit in a confined classroom with other people. And he wondered if he would be accepted by his professors and peers.


"Would the professors understand where I'm coming from?" Herst remembered asking himself. "Would the students understand or respect what I've done in the past? Or would they question, unknowingly, what I've done and maybe even judge me as a person just by the stigma that veterans have from war?"


Herst's experiences as a student veteran have been mixed. Though he says he has met quite a few supportive students and professors, he also has faced difficulties on campus.


"I've found quite a bit of opposition when it came to just supporting the military," Herst said. "I've had professors and other students that were openly against the military and openly against veterans. And it was difficult for me to deal with that, without opening my mouth and really starting a conflict. I didn't want to associate my name with a trouble-maker or someone that goes against the power curve."



A photo of UK Military Veterans of America.
The UK Military Veterans of America, along with the Veterans Resource Center, provides support for student veterans on campus.

A safe haven


Herst said the UK Veterans Resource Center helped him connect to other student veterans on campus, and to learn how to deal with those kinds of issues.


"The Veterans Resource Center showed me that there are opportunities to interact with other veterans – kind of a safe haven," Herst said. "Somewhere you can go and you can understand that everybody in there relates to what you've gone through, and maybe can offer assistance, as far as similar circumstances – how they handled the situation – as well as offering a place of solace. Somewhere you can just come and relax."


Tony Dotson, the center's coordinator, said Herst and other veterans support each other not only through the center but also the UK Military Veterans of America student group.

"I know Jon was very active in the student veteran organization, and I think maybe that was something that helped ground him," Dotson said. "He is one of the most grounded people you'll ever meet."


Dotson also pointed out that student veterans, thanks to their time in the military, already have many of the skills needed to succeed in college.


"They have skills that the military has taught them – working in teams, time management skills, prioritization," he said. "There are a lot of things that you get in the military that can be applied on campus."


Herst said the ability to deal with stress is one of those skills. "After the military, school, taking a test, studying, writing a paper – that's not stress," he said. "After you've been deployed even once, you know what stress is and you can really separate the two."

As Herst prepares to accept his degree, he says he hopes that the campus community will show awareness and sensitivity not only for student veterans but for all types of students.


"I personally would like people to understand that there are various populations of students on campus, and to be sensitive to their needs regardless of whether they are veterans or not," Herst said. "But this subgroup of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans coming in are dealing with issues that other students and professors may never understand. The veteran population is dealing with problems that are unseen."


Herst will wear a red, white and blue cord on graduation day. New to last year's graduating class, only student veterans wear it.


"I will definitely be wearing that with pride," he said. "And I probably will be thinking that I hope I earn the respect of my family and friends as I walk across that stage, and inspire other veterans to follow in my footsteps."

File Downloads
Internship Info Session
LNFS Presents: Dallas Buyers Club
College of Law Welcomes Trevor Potter
Dancing at Lughnasa
LNFS Presents: Notes on Marie Menken
LNFS Presents: Edge of Tomorrow
UK Jazz Ensemble/ UK Lab Band
Earth & Environmental Science Student Open House
"Nerd Night" Exhibit and Concert
"Anne Braden: Southern Patriot" Film Screening and Discussion
Dancing at Lughnasa
LNFS Presents: My Neighbor Totoro
LNFS Presents: (500) Days of Summer
Men's Soccer vs. Old Dominion
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Alabama
Dancing at Lughnasa
Kentucky Football vs. South Carolina
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Rock Climbing @ Red River Gorge
Cross Cultural Workshop 2014
Swing Dancing!
Dancing at Lughnasa
Cross Cultural Workshop 2014
UK Children's Hospital/Birthing Center Annual Perinatal Loss "Walk To Remember"
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Texas A&M
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
Resumes and Cover Letters
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
Networking and Job Search
UK Choristers
Rock Star Professionalism Series
Stillness in Motion: The Essence of Symmetry - presented by Dr. Carl Lee, Mathematics
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
LNFS Presents: Night of the Living Dead
UK Law Day
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
LNFS Presents: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Mark Berry, Guest Percussion Recital
National Depression Screening Day
LNFS Presents: Torch Song Trilogy
Dancing at Lughnasa
LNFS Presents: Shut Up and Play the Hits
LNFS Presents: Watchmen
KLJ Data Privacy Symposium
Family Weekend Check-in
Big Blue Pantry Food Drive #1
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. South Carolina
Family Weekend: Derek Hughes
Dancing at Lughnasa
Kentucky Football vs. ULM
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
UK International Tent/ Tailgate Party
CT Surgery Symposium: Advances in the Surgical Management of Cardiothoracic Diseases:
Family Weekend Tent Party
Dancing at Lughnasa
DNT 101: A Taste of the Kentucky Doughnut Trail
Big Blue Pantry Food Drive #2
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Auburn
Sunday Lunch at Historic Spindletop Hall
Men's Soccer vs. Marshall
Job Club - Social Media and Your Career
Massage on the Go
LNFS Presents: The Last Samurai
UK Symphony Band Concert
Women's Forum Conference 2014
#TrendingTopics: Pornography vs. Morality
Career Assessment Workshop
LNFS Presents: The Tree of Life
LNFS Presents: Guardians of the Galaxy
UK Wind Symphony
LNFS Presents: Princess Mononoke
LNFS Presents: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Ole Miss
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
Paint the Town Blue
Free Kaplan Entrance Practice Exams
4th Annual Big Blue Soccer Tournament
Men's Soccer vs. New Mexico
Swing Dancing and Costumes?
Paint the Town Blue
UK Men's Chorus and acoUstiKats
Jazz Spectacular
UK Student Pajama Party
Kentucky Volleyball vs. LSU
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Florida
Paint the Town Blue
Midterm of 2014 Fall Semester
Returning to Work and Breastfeeding
Open Access Week Kickoff Event (Webcast)
Grad School 101
Royalty Showcase
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week: Preparing for Law School
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week: Grad School Panel: Surviving Your 1st Year
Film & Panel Discussion: Be Like Others
Graduate and Professional School Showcase
Your Publication, Your Choice: Choosing the Right Open Access Journal
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week
Kitty Karnival
Study Tips for Medical School
LNFS Presents: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Thank-A-Donor Day
Campus Sustainability Day
Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Information Session
Getting Into Medical School
Writing a Winning Personal Statement
Career Assessment Workshop
LNFS Presents: Marimbas From Hell
LNFS Presents: The Fault in Our Stars
Generation Open: Researchers' Roles in the Age of Openness
Homecoming Street Fair
LNFS Presents: Kiki's Delivery Service
LNFS Presents: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
"see blue." Day at Keeneland
Peanut Butter Drive
Pumpkin Carving Tournament
Kentucky Football vs. Mississippi State
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
UK Women's Choir and Paws and Listen
Bill Cooper Faculty Recital
What Makes You "YOU: with Brett T. Spear
UK Trumpet Ensemble
Undergraduate Research Information Session "How to Find A Mentor"
Kentucky Men's Basketball Blue/White Scrimmage
Job Club - How To Get A Job at UK: Updates on IES Applicant Tracking System
Common Reading Experience Author Lecture: Presenting Ishmael Beah
Screening of the documentary Teached
Internship Info Session
LNFS Presents: The Shining
Pinterest Party
UK Lab Safety Fair
Leadership Assessment
"see boo." Halloween Party
Society for the Promotion of Undergraduate Research (SPUR) Meeting
#UKEDTALKS: Design Thinking with Dr. John Nash
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Tennessee
Career Assessment Workshop
LNFS Presents: Lucy
Film Viewing and Discussion of The Other Boleyn Girl
LNFS Presents: Papirosen
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Alabama
LNFS Presents: ParaNorman
LNFS Presents: Carrie
All Hallow's Eve Concert (UK Symphony Orchestra)
Work-Life Retirement Conference
Reset Page