Nissen's military service leads to writing about other soldiers
Koan Nissen grew up listening to — and loving — the war stories of his grandfather.
He remembers tales of the landing near Normandy with the 34th Infantry Division. Participating in the Battle of Saint-Lô. Getting shot while helping clear the second floor of a hospital. Receiving the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and Purple Heart.
Those stories — coupled with Nissen’s own full-time Army experience — led the UNL police officer to become a public affairs writer in the Army National Guard.
“What I tell everyone is that I traded a howitzer for a pen,” Nissen said. “For me, it was a good transition. It’s a job that I believe in. The stories of soldiers are important and need to be documented.”
Nissen’s own soldier story started with an enlistment in the U.S. Army after high school graduation in 1995. After basic and advanced training, Nissen landed with the Third Division in Fort Benning, Ga., serving as a gunner on a howitzer crew.
His service included participation in Operation Desert Thunder, which supported the no-fly zone established over Iraq in 1998.
Nissen said the four-year commitment was an eye-opening experience.
“By the time I was done with active duty, three close friends had committed suicide and several others were divorced,” Nissen said. “My view of the Army at that point was not entirely positive. I saw it as a personal life grinder.
“So, I decided to get off active duty and check out the Army Reserve system.”
He attended classes for one year at Auburn University before returning to Lincoln in 1999, where he accepted a job with the UNL Police Department. From 2000 to 2004, Nissen served in the U.S. Army Reserves. After a couple years away from the military, Nissen re-upped with the Army National Guard.
“I missed the uniform, the people and the camaraderie,” Nissen said. “When I started to look at coming back, I decided I wanted to use my brain rather than brawn.”
He successfully passed a test to become a writer and trained to become a public affairs writer at the Defense Information School in Maryland.
“I thought it was a really cool opportunity,” Nissen said. “I always loved listening to my grandfather’s stories. And there I was, getting the opportunity to tell the stories of other soldiers.”
Most of Nissen’s stories are published in Prairie Soldier, a publication of the Nebraska National Guard. And, the military has honored Nissen’s work with two national writing awards.
Since starting the work five years ago, Nissen has recorded a variety of soldier stories — from interviewing a World War II veteran in a bomber he once flew to following airborne troopers during a training mission.
“I actually tethered myself to the C-130 and leaned out the door hoping to capture photos of the airborne guys jumping out of the plane,” Nissen said. “Last year, I went to Germany to help with media relations for the Seventh Army. Next month I’ll be in Alaska to follow a general.
“Journalism has undoubtedly taken me to places that I would have never had the opportunity to visit.”
And Nissen is using lessons learned in media relations with the Army in his work as UNLPD’s new education and personnel officer. The position includes a mix of leading education and training both within the department and campus community, while also overseeing human resources issues for UNLPD.
“I felt that I was at a stage in my career where I have done a little bit of everything within the department and would enjoy the teaching and outreach aspects of this position,” Nissen said. “And it takes someone who can write, so that’s right up my alley.”
Nissen recently re-enlisted within the National Guard and next year will be promoted to sergeant first class.
“I’m just in a great place right now,” Nissen said. “The public affairs role, telling these stories, is so rewarding. It’s an amazing opportunity and one I’m proud to be part of.”