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Called to serve: Katrisha Neisse’s story

How one veteran’s journey began at age 17 and led to a lifelong sense of purpose

A list of Katrisha Neisse’s military and civilian accomplishments might look like this: Enlisted in the National Guard in high school. Enrolled in college. Served in Iraq. Graduated college. Got a job.

But a basic laundry list of accomplishments doesn’t even come close to painting a complete picture of this veteran’s story — or her dedication to our country.

All in the family

When asked what motivated her to enlist in the military, Katrisha jokingly says, “I was 17, my best friend was enlisting, and my mom didn’t want me to. What other reasons does a 17-year-old need?”

In all seriousness, serving their country is a big part of her family’s history, and her relatives ultimately inspired her to join. Her great-grandmother was a nurse and worked with veterans stateside. Her great-grandfather served in the infantry during World War II. Her great-uncle served in the Army during Vietnam, and her grandfather served in the Army as well.

She chose the National Guard largely because of the education incentives, and after high school, she enrolled in the actuarial sciences program at the University of Minnesota.

Two-and-a-half years into her studies, her division was mobilized to Fort Lewis in Washington before being deployed to Iraq.

SPC Katrisha Neisse working on a Humvee
SPC Katrisha Neisse works to replace a radiator in an armored Humvee.

‘Something we had to do’

“The week I was to leave for my deployment to Iraq, I was listening to my great-grandfather’s stories about the war,” Katrisha reflects. “I asked him how he coped with it all and he said, ‘It wasn’t easy, but it was just something we had to do.’ That strong will and dedication to do what has to be done is something I continue to admire in him and I hope it comes through in my life as well.”

Pursuing her long-time interest in cars, Katrisha trained as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and fixed mine-resistant ambushed protected vehicles, armored Humvees and forklifts. One memorable challenge in this role involved a 10-ton forklift.

“We had to replace the front axle on the forklift,” she explains. “We didn’t have all of the right tools or resources, so one other specialist and I had to figure out how to get it off the ground in order to fix it. We used several floor jacks and stands. I was pretty proud of that.”

Katrisha Neisse holding her award for Soldier of the Quarter
Katrisha with her awards for various levels of competition and contributions while deployed.

Friendly competition

Another proud moment came in the form of the Soldier of the Quarter competition, which involved multiple arduous tests for physical fitness, warrior drills, treating casualties, weapons and Army knowledge.

Katrisha won the company- and battalion-level competitions and advanced to the final division level.

“When I knew I was advancing to the finals,” she explains, “people from all parts of my company came together to help me prepare for the competition — including Paul Jungels, who also now works at Securian Financial.”

On the day of the final event, Katrisha woke up at 3 a.m. to begin the tests with her six competitors — all of whom were male.

After a day of physically demanding competition, Katrisha entered the final stage — answering questions about all things Army-related from a board of senior officers. She knew the information so well that at one point, she even corrected the Sergeant Major on one of the questions (respectfully, of course).

Katrisha won the whole competition.

“It was a win for my entire company,” Katrisha says. “We proved that National Guard soldiers can compete at the same level as the best of the active duty soldiers.”

On women in the military

Even though beating out all-male competitors was significant, Katrisha says her experience in the military wasn’t necessarily more challenging because she is a woman.

“Other women veterans might have a different take,” she says, “but as a female in the military, I was given the same opportunities in the maintenance shop, on convoys and in competition as my fellow male soldiers.”

She continues, “I think the military was so rewarding for me because it brought people of all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations together under one common purpose. The history of the military includes several hurdles, but in my opinion, has come a long way toward equality.”

Katrisha Neisse raising the American flag at a Twins game
Katrisha was the third service member to raise the flag at Target Field.

Returning home

Katrisha returned to the United States in January 2010 — five days after spring semester started. Having school to focus on helped ease her reintegration, but there were still challenges.

She worked closely with her professors to get up to speed and took advantage of support programs for veterans at the university. She eventually adjusted, but missed her military friends greatly.

“There was a sense of loss of camaraderie and sharing a joint sense of purpose with them,” Katrisha says.

She maintained her focus and was invited to raise the flag before a Twins baseball game at Target Field in Minneapolis. She was the third service member ever to raise the flag at the stadium, which opened earlier that same year.

“That was an honor,” Katrisha says. “I have always felt an overwhelming sense of pride in our flag and still get emotional when I hear the national anthem. To be able to contribute to that experience for others was both rewarding and humbling.”

The next phase

While attending school, she also worked full time as an administrative non-commissioned officer, helping recruit and retain officers.

Katrisha gained leadership experience while training and motivating officers, and data analysis experience while projecting discharge rates and evaluating recruiting efforts.

She graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science. Shortly thereafter, she met a Securian Financial employee, who told her about the actuarial career track at the company.

Katrisha applied, interviewed and began her career in financial reporting in the financial institution group.

She then studied for and passed a series of rigorous actuarial exams to earn her Fellowship in Society of Actuaries. She’s now a risk management actuary within Securian Financial’s Individual Life and Annuity division and plans to pursue the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation.

In good company

She finds Securian Financial to be a supportive work environment for service members, thanks in part to the Service Member Associate Resource Group.

“Having this group is a huge benefit,” Katrisha says. “Knowing you have that support at work means so much. It’s also open to anyone — not just active duty and veteran members — who wants to support service members.”

This Veterans Day, Katrisha plans to call her uncle to thank him for his service, and spend time with family and service members who inspired her.

Katrisha inspires us, and we’re grateful for her service to our country and to our company.

Katrisha’s medals displayed at her desk
Katrisha’s grandfather built a case and shelf for her awards.

Katrisha's medals and commendations

Katrisha has a full case of medals, including Army Commendation (ARCOM) and Army Achievement Medals (AAM) for the following contributions:

  • ARCOM: Winning Multi-National Division South Soldier of the Quarter
  • ARCOM: Contributions to the maintenance section while deployed
  • AAM: Qualifying for the division-level competition
  • AAM: Winning company-level Soldier of the Quarter
  • AAM: Assisting at the entry control point after the loss of some Military Police members
  • AAM: Data analysis above and beyond her usual duties to assist in evaluating recruiting efforts  

Katrisha Neisse is a Securian Financial employee, and thus has a financial connection to Securian Financial. The statements were given freely.

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