Mike Gawel loves his job as a financial aid facilitator at Fox Valley Technical College. “I get to help people understand the importance of an education,” he says. “I’m constantly meeting new people, hearing their stories and helping them to that next chapter.”
Serving others is just part of who Gawel is. In 2005, he enlisted in the Army and served seven years, including a tour in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. While doing route clearance escorting Polish forces, U.S. Army Specialist (SPC) Gawel’s patrol had already found and disposed of several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) when it struck an IED along the road. The force of the explosion disabled the vehicle and injured many of those inside, including SPC Gawel. Polish air support ultimately provided him and others with medivac assistance. He was then honorably discharged and received a Purple Heart for his valor.
And as part of the 2021 Purple Heart Patriot Project, Gawel has been chosen to represent his fellow Purple Heart heroes this September as Wisconsin’s representative at a multi-day tribute to the courage and sacrifice of those wounded in combat. The all-expenses-paid trip to New York includes visits to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, historic Washington’s Headquarters, a tour of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and other tributes to service.
Gawel was pleasantly surprised to be honored in this way. “There are so many deserving folks in similar situations, so it’s truly a blessing and an honor to get this amazing opportunity,” he says.
Along with his Purple Heart, SPC Gawel was awarded numerous medals and commendations during his service, including the Combat Action Badge, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and more.
Since serving, Gawel has earned associate degrees at FVTC in Accounting and Banking & Financial Services. He has also become an advocate for fellow veterans, serving as the Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 162 and as a co-advisor for the FVTC chapter of the Student Veterans of America. In his role in the Financial Aid office, he helps students navigate the often-complex world of financial aid and paying for college.
The Purple Heart Patriot Project is a program of the National Purple Heart Honor Mission. More info >>