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‘It will define you in a positive way’

Lt. Jason Kander at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan, while preparing for a convoy to Bagram Air Base in 2006. Inset at left, Kander as Missouri Secretary of State.

Lt. Jason Kander at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan, while preparing for a convoy to Bagram Air Base in 2006. Inset at left, Kander as Missouri Secretary of State.

Years before the emergence of any aspirations to seek public office, Secretary of State Jason Kander received lessons on service and charity through the example set by his parents.

With a mother who was a juvenile probation officer and his father a police officer, Kander witnessed firsthand the positive impact one could have in the lives of others.

“My parents would take in children from families who were struggling,” he recalled. “These kids became my foster siblings and really exemplified my parents’ spirit of helping others.”

Graduating in 1999 from a high school in Overland Park, Kan., Kander attended college in Washington, D.C., where his parents’ influence and an unforeseen event collided to help set the direction of his military career.

While attending American University, the events of 9/11 helped solidify his resolve to serve his nation in some capacity.

Kander went on to graduate with a political science degree and began the first step toward public service by enrolling in the Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) in 2002 while attending Georgetown Law School.

While pursuing an advanced degree, Kander enlisted in the Maryland National Guard in 2003. Two years later, he graduated with his juris doctor degree and was commissioned in the Army Reserve.

“Others told me I could become a JAG (military attorney) officer,” Kander said. “But I chose to become a military intelligence officer because I felt it would allow me to make more of a direct contribution to the war effort and be directly involved with other soldiers.”

He went on to complete intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and while still in training decided he wanted to serve overseas. With no deployment available for him then, he returned to Kansas City and began working for a law firm.

However, his foray into civilian employment was brief when, in the summer of 2006, he was sent to Tampa to serve in the Afghan intelligence section with U.S. Central Command.

“After only a short time (in Tampa),” he explained, “I was deployed to Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan, as an intelligence officer. I investigated suspected corruption, espionage, drug trafficking and groups or individuals aiding enemy forces in the area.”

In early 2007, he returned to his career as an attorney in Kansas City. An opportunity arose at a training site at Fort Leonard Wood, and Kander continued his part-time military career by transferring to the Missouri National Guard.

Becoming a platoon trainer, he said, “I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to help shape future Army leaders and pass on lessons to others who would soon lead their own soldiers in a combat environment.”

The young veteran learned in 2008 that the state representative in his district would not seek reelection, which helped inspire his own desire to enter public service at the state Capitol.

Kander won election and went on to serve in the state legislature for two terms from 2009-13.

He also received appointment to the Missouri Veterans Commission during the same period of his service in the General Assembly-bringing a perspective, Kander notes, which allowed the commission “to explore issues important to recently separated combat veterans.”

Wanting to focus on his new public service career, the legislator left the military in late 2011.

Late last year, Kander successfully pursued the office of secretary of state, becoming the youngest statewide office holder in the country at the age of 31.

Kander is married to his high school sweetheart, Diana, and the couple now resides in Columbia and is expecting their first child this September.

In reflecting on the course of events that have advanced his career to the point of holding a major state office, Kander notes that in addition to the influence of his parents, military service has been a key factor in many of his achievements.

“The military can be a life-changing experience that will define you in a positive way for the rest of your life and give you the mindset to be able to make sound decisions,” Kander said.

“When you have the opportunity to lead soldiers in a combat environment, you develop a confidence that inspires you to make the right decision … even when doing the right decision might not be the most popular decision.”

Jeremy Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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