From Bethel to Kuwait—and Back

Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer’s ’21 desire to serve his community led him to the National Guard and Bethel. It also led him on a deployment to Kuwait, where he served as a religious affairs specialist and led suicide prevention training.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

February 21, 2020 | 10 a.m.

Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer ’21

Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer ’21 took a year off from his education at Bethel for a year-long deployment to Kuwait to serve as a religious affairs specialist and lead suicide prevention training.

When Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer ’21 was in Kuwait with the Minnesota National Guard, a soldier approached him one night asking for help. A fellow soldier was feeling down. Nordmeyer, who helped administer suicide prevention training, stepped in to talk to the soldier. Though they didn’t completely resolve the soldier’s feelings, Nordmeyer provided support and help. “That was very impactful on me and also on him,” Nordmeyer says, adding he’s seen the soldier several times since and that he’s doing better.

For Nordmeyer, it’s just one example of a drive to serve his community. That drive formed at an early age through accompanying his parents on a mission trip and serving as a Boy Scout. In fourth-grade, Nordmeyer completed a project to decorate a kite showing what he wanted to do someday. Nordmeyer wrote “Join the National Guard.” “I wanted to do something bigger than myself,” Nordmeyer says. “I was part of the Boy Scouts. I was an Eagle Scout. Then I decided I wanted to do more.”
True to his fourth-grade goal, Nordmeyer’s drive to serve others led him to the National Guard—and it led him to Bethel. “There’s been so many times I’ve been able to be involved in different clubs and organizations that have given me the opportunity to serve others,” he says.

From Faribault to Kuwait

As a teenager in Faribault, Minnesota, Nordmeyer began exploring military service and connected with a recruiter who led him to the Guard. The recruiter listed off several Guard jobs, and Nordmeyer took a keen interest in one. Nordmeyer became a religious affairs specialist—often called a 56M or chaplain’s assistant. Around the same time, Nordmeyer shifted his focus from a trade career to four-year universities. He didn’t consider Bethel at first, but then he booked an admissions visit while visiting a nearby college. “After I left the campus tour, I knew Bethel was where I wanted to receive my education,” he says. Nordmeyer is majoring in history and biblical and theological studies, following a passion for history and a desire to learn about his faith. “I just wanted to know more about the faith that I called my own,” he says.

During his freshman and sophomore at Bethel, Nordmeyer served one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer in the Guard. On one of those weekends, a chaplain he works with approached him about a deployment to Kuwait. Nordmeyer felt unsure whether to accept since it would keep him from Bethel for his traditional junior year, but he called his family, and his sister urged him to take the opportunity.

In Kuwait, Nordmeyer, a sergeant, assisted and advised the chaplain and the commander by working to ensure all their troops were provided for and able to practice their religions. He completed administrative duties for Sunday services and also served as battalion historian for Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. Nordmeyer admits it was stressful during his early days in Kuwait and challenging to be away from home, but he gradually found his footing. “As I continued to meet new people, provide religious support, have Sunday services, and continue my weeks, it became more comfortable,” he says.
 Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer ’21

As a boy, Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer ’21 created this kite saying that he wanted to be in the National Guard one day.

As a religious affairs specialist, Nordmeyer provides services to all religions, which allowed him to meet people and dialogue with people of all backgrounds. While challenging, Nordmeyer calls it transformational to interact with people of other religions with an open mind. “It benefited me as a Christian,” he says. “It opened up my eyes to how I should interact with other groups of people, so the interfaith dialogue or the dialogue that I have with other faith really helps me grow in a lot of different ways.” Nordmeyer says Bethel helped prepare him for such experiences, both through lessons in classes and by stressing critical thinking and engaging with others. “I think that a lot of what I learned at Bethel was actually able to be applied through and during the deployment,” he says.

Nordmeyer and the chaplain also led two-day suicide prevention workshops called Applied Suicide and Intervention and Skills Training (ASIST). Suicide has a large impact on the military, and the workshop aims to train soldiers to engage the issue in a respectful way. During the training, Nordmeyer and the chaplain help soldiers be more comfortable talking about mental health, and they teach them how to interact with a soldier who may be struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide. Nordmeyer was happy he could play a role in being part of the solution and working toward prevention. “That was probably one of the best experiences that I had when I was there,” he says, adding he’d love to be more involved teaching the program outside the military.

Coming Home

By the end of his deployment, Nordmeyer was excited to return home on July 21, 2019, and see his family for the first time in 10 months. But he felt apprehensive when it came time to move back to Bethel about a month later. He feared the connections he had made at Bethel would be gone. But for Nordmeyer attended a leadership retreat as he began work as a BUILD housing mentor. The retreat helped calm his nerves, reconnect with friends, and transition back to the community. “It was nerve-racking, but also very, very beneficial, and I think it really helped me transition back into the Bethel community,” he said.
Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer ’21

When Sgt. Conor Nordmeyer ’21 returned from a year-long deployment to Kuwait, he found support from Office of Military and Veteran Services Executive Director John Morris and others at Bethel.

But Nordmeyer found support during the difficult transition from his deployment back to college. John Morris, Bethel’s executive director in the Office of Military and Veteran Services, offered support as someone who had been through similar transitions. “He helped me know that I'm not alone in the process, that there's a lot of other people here at Bethel that are military-affiliated,” Nordmeyer says. Morris helps students like Nordmeyer navigate military benefits, and he serves as a bridge connecting military-affiliated students and their families to the broader Bethel community. “It’s been awesome,” he says. “I'm very happy that there's actually a Bethel veteran services office for us to utilize.”

Nordmeyer’s military contract is up in 2020, and he doesn’t foresee another deployment unless he reenlists for another term. He admits it can be challenging to balance his commitment to the National Guard and college, but he says it’s been worthwhile. “I wouldn’t be here at Bethel without the military, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without Bethel,” Nordmeyer says. “I think both really put me in a position that has really helped me develop myself.”
Chaplain John Morris

Study and serve at Bethel.

The Office of Military and Veteran Services and Executive Director John Morris are dedicated to supporting military-affiliated students, helping them receive military benefits, transition from military services to college life, and then have a transformative education and spiritual experience at Bethel.

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