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Still serving: Military alumna takes aim at veterans' wellness

Transition to student life after military service inspired Dakota Hohenwalter to create a new campus group, the ASU Veteran Wellness Club

Dakota Hohenwalter

Dakota Hohenwalter is an Arizona State University College of Health Solutions graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in exercise and wellness. She is also a military veteran with nearly 10 years of soldiering behind her, including four years of active duty and a six-year commitment to the U. S. Army Reserve as an intelligence analyst.

Her military experience has given her a unique view about exercise and wellness as it applies to veterans. That, plus her own transition to student life after military service, inspired her to create a new campus group, the ASU Veteran Wellness Club.

“Serving in the military comes with a lot of rewards and sacrifices. Most often, the biggest sacrifice veterans give during their service is their health. A lot of the missions, training exercises and stressors cause wear and tear on the body,” she said.

That wear and tear can be emotional, too, and it’s extensive. In 2019, government figures showed that 25% of veterans had a service-connected disability, and the number jumps to 41% for veterans who served after the 2001 attack on New York’s World Trade Center.

The ASU Veteran Wellness Club is structured around a long-standing view that holistic health rests on eight pillars: physical, spiritual, emotional, social, occupational, financial, intellectual and environmental wellness. With that in mind, the organization serves as both a social outlet and as a clearinghouse connecting members to resources that will help them navigate school, finance and life beyond the barracks.

And that can be a challenging transition. Being active-duty military means living with constant direction that dictates where to be and when to be there, Hohenwalter said. In contrast, campus life means being able to do whatever you want whenever you want.

“It was kind of hard for me to adapt to that college lifestyle,” said Hohenwalter, who graduated from the College of Health Solutions in 2019 with her Bachelor of Science in exercise and wellness.

Through the Veteran Wellness Club, she hopes to help new student veterans on campus find the resources she wishes she had known about when she first came to ASU.

The club isn’t her only outlet for giving back to the community and supporting our troops. Hohenwalter recently talked to the College of Health Solutions about what drives her to aid others and how she plans to serve in the future.

Question: How has serving in the military affected your life today?

Answer: Serving in the military has allowed me to develop a passion for service. While I may not always be serving my country through my military service, I try to give back to my community and those around me whenever possible. I sincerely believe that I am where I am in life because of the communities I have been a part of. Additionally, two of the most important lessons I've learned in life were due to my military service: One, resilience, and two, confidence in oneself. In the past, before my service, I was often lacking in confidence and doubted myself often. In the military, I was given a lot of opportunities and responsibilities and had great mentors which allowed me to overcome this personal barrier. I was also faced with several obstacles and difficulties while serving that have taught me a certain level of resilience, which has contributed greatly to my success as a student. 

Q: How are you still connected to the military and other veterans?

A: I am still heavily connected to military communities and veterans throughout the Phoenix area. I currently serve on ASU's Veteran Advocacy and Affairs committee, and I also serve as the president of the Veteran Wellness Club on the ASU Downtown (Phoenix) campus.

Q: What does service mean to you and how has that changed after serving?

A: Service to me was always about sacrificing for the greater good. There was always an emphasis on selfless service and giving back to those around me while I served. After I transitioned to the reserves, that mindset was preserved, and I learned how to apply it to my "civilian soldier" lifestyle. My passion for service was what drove me to pursue a career as a professor and as a researcher geared towards injury prevention in tactical populations.

Q: How do you see yourself improving health outcomes for veterans?

A: In the future, I would love to be a part of preventive studies that help improve the overall musculoskeletal health of service members and veterans so they're able to minimize any damage to their bodies.