FOND DU LAC – As the Mrs. Wisconsin crown was placed onto Kim Galske’s head, she knew it was not only for her. To her, the competition wasn’t either.
Throughout competing for Mrs. Wisconsin, Galske’s goal was to spread awareness of the struggles veterans face and the assistance they need. It is a need she has experienced firsthand as a Marine Corps veteran, and now as executive director of Salute the Troops Wisconsin. It was why she entered, from the start.
To Galske, each point of the crown and each jewel belonged to those who served across the state. When she steps onto the national stage in August to compete for Mrs. United States, she wants to represent veterans from across the country, as well.
A heart for service
From her early teen years, Galske knew she wanted to be in the Marine Corps. She attended middle school across from the University of Arizona campus, where they had a recruiting offices and reserve station. She became friends with the high school students transitioning to Marines and they formed the extended family she was seeking.
In her junior year of high school, she joined the Marine Corps and in October 1996, she graduated from boot camp. With the First Marine Division, she was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, where worked in transportation for four years.
When her contract ended, she extended it with hopes to serve 20 years in the Marine Corps and one day becoming a detective. When she went to school to be a paralegal, she took the position of non-commission officer for police records and joined the Base Military Police, operating as a court liaison for the base and the surrounding San Diego area, she said.
Her plans changed, though, and she left the Marine Corps in February 2001. The transition to civilian life was a difficult one, she said, and she struggled to find where she fit.
The feeling is not abnormal, she said. For many in the military — particularly those coming back from combat with trauma — returning to life outside of the service is trying. In the military, people must relearn what they had been taught in earlier life, shifting focus from individualism to working as a team in the name of “servant leadership,” Galske said.
“It’s never about you, ever. It’s about everyone around you. You never finish by yourself. You never start by yourself and you certainly want to teach everybody else around you what you learned,” she said.
When leaving the military, the focus must return to the individual. If a person is lucky, they will get training on how to apply for a job, create a resume and registering with a community’s Veteran’s Service officer, Galske said. But, once they leave base, the life they’ve known — the leadership and the friendship — is gone, and it’s not as easy to find guidance.
“All of those familiar things are stripped away and it’s really difficult to come back and re-transition into what you knew before,” she said.
She took on various jobs and tried to find a place, landing in the financial sector in Fond du Lac in 2008. There, she fell in love with the city and the state, she said. She married Fond du Lac County Sheriff Chief Deputy and Air Force veteran Kevin Galske, and with son Brandon, now 17, settled into the area.
Over time, she learned more about the veterans resources available. While some may choose not to register with Veterans Services, it is important to remain in contact with it, as it can provide many benefits, Galske said. Services include discounts on prescriptions, access to doctors and benefits for starting a business.
“For so many people, they associate VA with counseling or problems instead of it being a positive experience,” she said.
She told herself if she ever had the opportunity to help someone in the situation and lessen their struggle, she’d take it. In April 2017, the opportunity presented itself as Salute the Troops Wisconsin searched for an executive director. She took it.
Goal: Supporting veterans
Salute the Troops Wisconsin works to help veterans transition into civilian life through “supportive programming” and “financial assistance if needed,” she said. If it cannot solve a problem, it will reach out to other organizations who can help.
Last year, the organization started the Veterans Garden and, for a period of time, worked with the now-closed non-profit Free SPIRIT Riders to run “War Horse,” a program which used equine therapy to help veterans. A veterans fund was also opened at the Fond du Lac Area Foundation, which can be pulled on to help veterans in need.
Still, she sought ways to make the organization more impactful and open new avenues to help veterans.
In pageants, she found an answer. For four years, she had been a sponsor for the Miss Wisconsin pageant system, and one day joked that she should run for Mrs. Wisconsin. Those around her encouraged her to do so and the idea took hold.
The competition encourages married women older than 21 and of any background to share their passion on “something in their community that gets people to move” and make a difference, she said.
The title, she believed, would serve as a “foot in the door” to speak at various events and business and tell them about services available to veterans, Salute the Troops, and how the organizations work together to assist those who served.
Those around her weren’t surprised by her decision, and they threw her their support.
In 2018, she took her first shot at the Mrs. Wisconsin title. Competing takes preparation and can be intimidating. The process includes an interview portion from panel, as well as evening gown and swim suit portions judged on confidence, grace and connection with the audience, said Galske.
It can be hard not compare one’s self to the other contestants and the work they’re doing, she said. Platforms include supporting adoption, helping women third-world countries, securing jobs, and premature babies. Overall, however, the competition is about remaining true to one’s self “and making sure that shines through” to the judges, said Galske.
“I think you have to be so confident in yourself and what you’re doing and know that even if you don’t win the crown, you’re still making a difference,” she said.
Another shot for the crown succeeds
Her first year, she took second runner-up. To win, she felt like she had more work she needed to do to be able to be a state representative. With hours volunteering, the competition became the hardest thing she has ever done, she said.
Over the next year, she worked harder for Salute the Troops than she ever had, traveling thousands of miles to be at events across the state, and share her perspective, as well as learn what she could do to help other organizations and more about the resources available. From those she met, she gained ideas to take back to Salute The Troops.
On Jan. 31, 2019, she joined the National Guard as a Religious Affairs specialist, with the goal of assisting “veterans through counseling and suicide prevention,” she said.
In 2019, Galske competed once more. On stage, she spoke from her own experience to share the struggles faced by veterans and what more needed to be done. She won Mrs. Fond du Lac Wisconsin and in March competed for the Mrs. Wisconsin title in front of a panel of judges — all past winners. On March 23, she took the title.
With such a strong field, she hadn’t let herself think she was going to win. So, when they called her name, all she remembers is a feeling of disbelief and that she must be dreaming.
Since winning, she has continued her involvement in the community, now going out with the banner of Mrs. Wisconsin. She finds it gives her more distinction to speak on veterans’ issues and Salute the Troops — as well as other causes those around her are seeking to promote. Her goal is to make 150 appearances as Mrs. Wisconsin and she has already done more than 50, she said.
“My title, my crown, is really the veterans’ crown. It’s the people’s crown. Everybody’s that ever supported me or anybody that I’ve been able to share their story or the people who are too afraid to come out of the shadows and talk about what they need, that to me is what the crown means,” she said.
The new Mrs. United States?
With the Mrs. Wisconsin crown, Galske will travel to the Las Vegas to compete for the title of Mrs. United States following a send-off party at 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 27 at Schmitty’s Bar and Grill, N7044 Winnebago Drive, Fond du Lac.
In the city, she plans to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience of meeting all the women, competing on a national stage and “being treated like a queen,” she said. The competition will take place from Aug. 1 to 4 at the South Point Hotel & Casino, where she will stand alongside 52 women, some of whom are fellow veterans.
The first day of competition features the preliminary round, and within the first 15 minutes of the next day, the field will be cut to 10 women for the finals. The event will be live-streamed on the Mrs. United States Facebook page.
As she did in the Mrs. Wisconsin competition, Galske plans to remain true to herself. No matter the outcome, she knows she has already been successful. Around the state, she has seen an increased awareness in the needs of veterans, veterans’ organizations and Salute the Troops. She also has a greater awareness of her own capabilities and a lessened fear of the unknown.
“I just trust that no matter what I go towards now — not that it’s always going to be good — but that I can survive it and I can make it through and I really don’t have anything to fear,” she said. “I think it’s taught me to live life even bigger and you can always make a difference in somebody’s life, even if it’s one person.”
She hopes her run and reign also empowers others to do what excites them, too, and give back to an organization that inspires them. If it can, she feels the work has been worth it.
“You don’t have to do what I’m doing. Just whatever lights you up. We all have that one thing that when you talk about it, your whole posture changes. Do that. Go do that, because when you do those things … it changes the world,” she said.
Contact Sarah Razner at 920-907-7909 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @misssarahrazner.
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