MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Retired Minnesota Army National Guard veteran Stephen Whitehead was unanimously elected to the position of national commander of the more than 1 million member DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Tuesday at the organization’s 98th National Convention in Orlando, Florida.
The Mankato, Minn., native is the first post-9/11 veteran chosen to lead the organization and will lead the organization into its 100th year in 2020.
“As this great organization is set to turn 100-years-old, I couldn’t be prouder to be in a position to jump-start DAV’s success for another century,” Whitehead said at the organization’s 98th Convention Tuesday.
Whitehead enlisted in 1991 at the age of 17 and served two overseas tours in Iraq with the Minnesota Army National Guard. His base came under mortar attack and he sustained a mild traumatic brain injury in Scania, Iraq, in Feb. 2007.
Whitehead, a Bronze Star recipient, retired as Command Sergeant Major for the Cambridge-based 84th Troop Command in the Minnesota Army National Guard earlier in 2019. He retired with a resume that includes 27 years of military service.
“Today wasn’t about me - today and the next year is all about our members and our fellow veterans all across this nation,” Whitehead said in his statement in Orlando. “I am here to make sure all of their voices are heard and fight as hard as I can to protect their benefits and fight for legislation that positions all veterans in the best situation possible.
Whitehead joined DAV and was elected to lead as adjutant of the organization’s Department of Minnesota in 2012. He currently serves as executive director of the Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota Foundation and has been instrumental in the creation of the department’s outdoor program, which provides therapeutic outdoor recreational events for veterans with various disabilities.
Whitehead has also placed focus on new veterans and those still serving - he spent time in Kuwait on and around Memorial Day serving meals to deployed troops with the St. Paul civic group “Serving Our Troops.”
“We’re seeing more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taking on leadership roles within DAV and serving as a bridge across generations, between those who served decades ago, those who served more recently and those still in uniform,” DAV CEO Marc Burgess said in Orlando. “Commander Whitehead is well poised to lead the organization on the unique issues that impact veterans of all eras.”