In Nebraska, nearly 150,000 men and women claim the honor of serving their country. Whether as friends, neighbors, employers or employees, veterans enrich our communities with the integrity they cultivated through their service.
The three service members profiled here offer examples of how Nebraska heroes serve their countries and communities through leadership, creativity and drive.
Fighting for a father’s rights
U.S. Army | Founder, Nebraska Equal Parenting Association
Joe Trader survived dangerous work in Iraq in the Army, but the hardest fight in his life has been struggling for equal parenting rights in Nebraska, he said.
“I went through some pretty tough times when I was in Iraq,” he said. “But a lot of times I think this battle is twice as bad.”
For the past few years, Trader has been a vocal activist for equal parenting in Nebraska. He’s hoping to raise awareness on the issue and spark legal change to make equal parenting time the case in the majority, rather than the minority, of custody arrangements in the state.
His quest began when his daughter was born. Trader sought joint custody and equal parenting time, but a judge denied both even while recognizing Trader as a fit parent.
As Trader delved into the issue, he realized many Nebraska fathers shared his experience: They wanted more time with their children, but the legal system typically favored giving custody to mothers. In Nebraska, mothers are awarded sole custody in about 60 percent of cases, while joint custody is awarded about 30 percent of the time. Fathers are awarded sole custody in about 10 percent of Nebraska cases.
“There are too many good fathers, too many good people out there that love their children and want to be a part of their kids’ lives,” Trader said.
Hoping to make his voice heard, Trader started a Facebook page that quickly grew into hundreds of “likes.” His rallying efforts brought 150 people to the Capitol last year to support two bills that would make equal parenting time routine.
Even though those legislative attempts failed, Trader refuses to give up the fight. His current efforts include a legal petition asking the Nebraska Supreme Court to adopt uniform rules that would require equal parenting time in divorce cases, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise.
Trader is also raising awareness about the issue through the Nebraska Equal Parenting Association, an organization he founded that offers support to parents through a statewide attorney referral program.
Despite setbacks, Trader believes change is on the horizon in Nebraska. “We’re making a lot of headway,” he said.
Trader, of Bennington, joined the military at age 21 to bring focus into his life. In Iraq, he served as a combat engineer, a dangerous job that involved securing convoy routes. He was back in Nebraska attending college when Grace, now 3, was born.
Trader said his experience in Iraq shaped his drive to work for change. “When you come back from risking your life, you realize there are a lot of great things about this country. But your eyes are opened a lot more to things that are wrong with this country — not just for soldiers, but for everybody.”
In Iraq, Trader lost many friends. The reason he survived, he believes, was to struggle for change on an issue that effects so many Nebraska families.
“I think God wanted to prepare me for the biggest battle of my life,” he said. ”I’m not the kind of person that gives up. When I set out to do something, I’m going to finish it. I honestly believe this is what I’m supposed to do and this is why I made it back.”
Spirit of service
U.S. Air Force | Real estate agent and owner of Kosama fitness studio
At age 17, Kelly Gitt left balmy Florida for snowy Nebraska to pursue a job in the Air Force — two transitions that prompted “a ton of culture shock,” Gitt said.
Twenty years later, Gitt remains in Nebraska lending her ambition and passion to multiple businesses. She’s built a successful business with Gitt Real Estate. She owns a Kosama studio, a group fitness facility offering specialized classes including kettle bells, kickboxing and plyometrics. At home, she and husband Mike are parents to five children, ages 3 to 14.
Gitt said the Air Force instilled in her a love for country and an appreciation for hard work. When she enlisted, she had to learn every basic task, she said. The challenge to “start at A and get to Z” fueled her work ethic.
“It shaped everything — my desire to work, to want more, to never settle or get complacent,” she said.
Gitt said she tried to learn as much as possible from everyone around her. As a medical technician at the base clinic, she met people from all walks of life. She often worked with veterans. “For all they sacrificed, they were still grateful to us,” she said. “That was extremely humbling.”
When Gitt left the Air Force after four years, she stayed in Nebraska to finish her degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Real estate caught her attention. Today, her work in the industry seeks to raise the bar for customer service. “It’s never about a deal,” she said. “It’s about people and their next phase in life and how you can support them.”
She formed Gitt Real Estate group in 2008. Since then, her drive has produced accolades including a nomination for entrepreneur of the year from the SCORE office of the Small Business Administration; recognition from the Metro Omaha Builders Association as rookie of the year; and a spot on a Women’s Council of Realtors panel of high-producing realtors.
Gitt credited her faith, family and country for helping her achieve success.
“I love this country, I love what it stands for: if you work hard, you can work your way into anything.”
Making every day count
U.S. Army | Co-founder, 92 West
“Is today the day?”
Those words greeted Jamie Kadavy frequently as he escorted Army trucks in Iraq. In his work as a convoy escort, roadside bombs and ambushes were a daily reality. The sign was a reminder.
“Any day could be the last day, so I have to make sure I can do my best and that I’m effective,” he said.
Kadavy, who grew up in Mead, Neb., joined the Army Reserves in 2002 at age 20 to be a part of something bigger than himself, he said. In 2003, he was deployed for the first of three tours in Iraq. His second tour was particularly violent. “Every time we went out, we ended up finding a bomb or getting hit,” he said.
When Kadavy came back to Nebraska in 2010, the sign’s meaning stayed with him. He proposed to his girlfriend, Audra, when he got off the homecoming bus in Lincoln. They’ve been married for four years.
He went into business with his brother, Troy. Their company, 92 West, provides affordable advertising and marketing services to clients across the country.
The business allows Jamie, who had loved art since childhood, to dream creatively for clients to achieve their goals.
Jamie credits his military experience with helping him be a better communicator. When working with clients, he notices when he needs to explain something more thoroughly or tweak his pitch. “It’s made me more confident as an individual,” he said.
He carries his military ethic into his work. Each day, he reminds himself: “Is today the day?”
“When I come to work, I want to try and put everything I possibly can into it,” he said. “If today happens to be my last day, I want to know I gave it my all.”