Air Force captain aids soldiers and colleagues through words and deeds

By Steve Hansen
Ed Hrivnak’s writing career began on small pieces of tape he’d stick to his flightsuit.

Not that Hrivnak ’96 would call himself a writer. A registered nurse, a professional firefighter, a U.S. Air Force captain with more than 20 years of service – most certainly. But a writer? As someone who has been published in the holy grail of magazines – The New Yorker – and has been included in the compilation “Operation Homecoming,” the title writer certainly applies.

During the war in Iraq, Hrivnak spent much of his time flying injured service personnel from the battlefields of Iraq to the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. On the tape adhered to his flight suit, he’d scrawl out things he wanted to remember from the mission – the number of wounded, for instance, or the condition the injured soldiers were in. When he was off duty at the base and too exhausted to sleep, a condition he and his fellow airmen often had, he began to type up his notes and send them off in e-mails to loved ones back home.

Those e-mails became stories. True stories. And he’d find a place to publish those stories from time-to-time in various journals. In 2003, one of his stories found it’s way into Tacoma’s News Tribune. “Maybe I’ve got something here,” Hrivnak recalled thinking to himself.

Nearly a year after submitting a manuscript to a publisher compiling stories from active duty servicemen, he got a call telling him that he was to be one of 87 authors included in the book “Operation Homecoming,” culled down from more than 3,000. The rest simply followed suit, including The New Yorker piece, some book tours and a featured spot in PBS’s documentary about the stories from the book, called “America at the Crossroads: Operation Homecoming.”

The exposure has been a strange whirlwind for Hrivnak. He seems to realize the irony that a military man might find few things more tedious than city-to-city book signing tours; he’s certain there are few things more surreal than seeing your life characterized onscreen. What he appreciates most is the opportunity to communicate his experiences, and those of his fellow nurses, to others both in and out of the military.

“I don’t see myself writing about war; I’m writing about the wounded,” he said. “What it is like to be wounded and what it is like to be cared for.”

Hrivnak notes that for every one person killed in Vietnam there were three wounded. In Iraq, that ratio is 13 wounded for each person killed. “We are taking care of wounded that no one has ever seen before,” he said, speaking of the injuries he’s seen.

“People think that if you have been trained as a nurse, you are immune to trauma. That is not so. It absolutely wears on you.”
Hrivnak is officially retired from the Air Force and is now working as a firefighter at Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, the very department that serves PLU. After logging more than 3,500 flight hours while serving in the first Gulf War and in peacekeeping missions for Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia, he’s happy to be home with his wife, Jennifer, and newborn child.

Being a full-time civilian should give him a little more time to write, too. There are some experiences from his time in the service he’s yet to get down on paper.

“Do I want to be a famous writer? Of course – but that’s not the goal,” Hrivnak said.

He reflects on the many people who have since told him about the mental and physical anguish they’ve suffered as a result of caring for wounded service personnel. “A lot of people have told me ‘Thank you (for writing what you did), I thought I was the only one dealing with this.’ That is the payoff right there.”

Operation Homecoming, edited by Andrew Carroll, is published by the Random House Publishing Group. You can read an excerpt from “Medevac Missions,” by Ed Hrivnak, here.

Faith helps army physician through tough times in Iraq

Krista Gunstone ’09
Dennis Nichols ’86, a U.S. Army physician stationed in Baghdad during late 2004, said he was walking away from the Ibn Sina medical facility when, “I just felt God saying to me, ‘get down.’ ” 

Dennis Nichols

Nichols, who at the time was in the company of two military colleagues, grabbed his friends and pulled them to the ground moments before a missile soared over their heads. The projectile struck the ground about 20 feet away but failed to detonate. 

Despite witnessing constant violence and destruction in Iraq, Nichols says his faith helped him through tough times.

Throughout his five-month deployment from August 2004 to January 2005, Nichols saved the lives of Americans and Iraqis alike.
“I was touched by the people who were there,” Nichols said. “I just loved them.”

Nichols says the Iraqis he met were grateful for the sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers and doctors.

“They would say to me, ‘we grieve over your kids who are giving their lives for us,’ ” Nichols recalls, “ ‘for something we have never experienced before, and that is our spiritual freedom.’ ”

Nichols graduated from PLU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and an emphasis in biochemistry. A Fulbright fellow from 1986 until 1989, Nichols attended the University of Karlsruhe in Germany and, later, earned his medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. 

Nichols now works as a cardiothoracic surgeon at Tacoma General Hospital. He and his wife, Grace ’89, live with their five children in Gig Harbor, Wash. 

Federal Way resident uses Web to help combat graffiti

By Morgan Root ’09
Many communities fight graffiti with old-fashioned paintbrushes.

James and Lori (Parks) Lamb use the Web to help eradicate graffiti in their home of Federal Way, Wash.

But James Lamb ’96, a resident of Federal Way, has created a high-tech way for the city to combat this blight.

Lamb, an e-mail manager at World Vision’s Federal Way headquarters, created a Web site in early 2007 that tracks graffiti around the city. Graffiti consists of images or words painted on buildings, signs and other objects, often diminishing the aesthetics of cities and towns.

 “It kept coming up as an issue,” Lamb said, “and around that time the technology to map things existed. It helps create a sense of accountability.”

The process is simple. When Lamb spots graffiti, he snaps photos on his cell-phone camera or a regular camera, then uploads the images to his Web site. Lamb’s site uses Google technology to map locations.

At first, Lamb performed the task alone. But his work helped draw attention to Federal Way’s graffiti problem and now he has help. 

“It’s an interesting test of crowd sourcing,” Lamb said. “People collaborate and will send pictures to the Web site.”

It was mentioned prominently in the New York Times this summer in a piece exploring citizen advocates using Web technology.
Visitors to the site can take photos of graffiti in the city, then e-mail it to Lamb’s Web site, along with the location. While the Web site does not eliminate the problem, it does draw public attention to local graffiti.

Lamb, who majored in communication at PLU, said the site has helped spread information and educate the public.

“Federal Way is a pretty city,” Lamb said. “It has helped (the city) find pockets of graffiti they couldn’t find.”

To see reported graffiti sites, or to contact Lamb, visit

For children’s author, legacy can be seen on smiling faces

By Heather Meligan ’08
For Trudi Trueit ’84, working at KPLU and KCNS was the beginning of what appeared to be a promising career in journalism.

Trudy Trueit

Soon after graduation, Trueit landed her first job anchoring news and reporting weather at KAPP, an ABC affiliate in Yakima, Wash. She later moved to a similar position at KREM, the CBS affiliate in Spokane.

However, Trueit began to have doubts about journalism, and for a while, she ventured into freelance public relations, writing newsletters, magazine articles and press releases for hospitals and school districts.

It was then that her PLU training kicked in, inspiring Trueit to pursue a career she felt was more substantive and meaningful.

“I knew I wanted to contribute something to the world. People knew my face on the news, but I wondered, ‘what will my legacy be and what will I be remembered for?’” Trueit said.

“My answer was seeing a little kid with one of my books. That is what I want to leave behind. Happy kids.”

Trueit proceeded to write 22 non-fiction books for Scholastic, a publisher of children’s products, on topics ranging from weather to cameras. She also penned a series for Scholastic about holidays, festivals and celebrations.

Then Trueit got the chance for which she’d been waiting – the opportunity to write her own fiction series. What followed was the Julep O’Toole series, published by Dutton, which includes three titles: “Confessions of a Middle Child,” “Miss Independent” and

“What I Really Want to Do is Direct.”

The series features the coming-of-age adventures of a 10-year-old girl named Julep. Trueit said the series was inspired by her own childhood. For instance, like Julep, Trueit was a middle child, with an older sister and a younger brother.

“It’s hard to be 10 years old,” Trueit said. “Writing these kinds of books, you just hope that you touch someone who’s going through that.”

Trueit is currently writing a series for Aladdin Books about a boy named Scab, an inventor and a bit of a daredevil. The series is for boys between 8 and 11, and is scheduled to debut in the spring of 2009.

With Fulbright, administrator compares school programs in U.S. and Brazil

By Heather Dunning ’08
Visiting a foreign land can sometimes remind travelers about aspects of their own country.

Larry Walsh with Brazilian students

For Larry Walsh ’75, a trip to Brazil on a Fulbright Fellowship in August 2007 afforded him that very insight. An associate principal at Capital High School in Olympia, Walsh was one of only eight U.S. school administrators selected for the program.
“This experience changed me personally and professionally,” Walsh said.  “I fell in love with the country and its diversity in people, food and the arts.”

The group of administrators spent their time visiting schools at all levels and learning as much as possible about Brazil’s educational system. While meeting with his Brazilian counterparts and state education ministers, Walsh realized that Brazilians face many of the same challenges experienced in the United States.

The key difference, however, is that the education system of Brazil has fewer resources.

“I was amazed,” Walsh said, “at how efficiently they made use of everything that was available to them in the schools.”

Walsh knows efficiency when he sees it. He has worked in schools since graduating from PLU with a bachelor’s degree in music education. He started his career as a band director in Chinook, Mont. Later, he returned to Washington state as a teacher and administrator at high schools in Hoquiam and Federal Way.

Although Walsh enjoys living in Olympia with his wife, Gail, and their chocolate lab, he always has been intrigued by travel and learning about other cultures.  Brazil gave him such an opportunity.

“Understanding other world cultures helps us be more reflective and sometimes critical about our own culture,” Walsh said.

Six Lutes work to ensure one middle school continues to succeed

By Kelsey Liddle ’10
Tad Heinen ’96 said when he first graduated from college, he mistakenly believed that education was all about him.

Tad Heinen

But Heinen, who double majored in education and history at PLU, quickly learned that being a teacher was less about what he wanted to teach and more about what students needed to learn. 

Heinen, who taught for eight years at Cascade Middle School in Auburn, Wash., received a promotion to vice principal at Cascade at the beginning of the 2007-08 academic year.

“It’s been a different transition,” Heinen said, noting that the switch from classroom to administrator has been a challenge. At the same time, however, Heinen said his experiences as a teacher have provided him with important insight.

“I know all of the challenges that our school faces, and I’ll be able to address some of them,” Heinen said.
For example, Heinen said he hopes to foster strong working relationships between parents, the community and the school. Students can only benefit from such stewardship and involvement, he explained. 

From his new administrative perch, Heinen now recognizes that there is “always the need to make sure the schools are adequately funded.” 

Heinen has plenty of company discussing the core ethics and values he learned at PLU: Five other Lutes work at Cascade.

After eight years of rewarding but often demanding classroom duty, Heinen is also seeking a healthier balance between family and work. He and his wife of 11 years, Stefanie, are now expecting their second child. 

Reflecting on his past and future, Heinen said that although he has left the classroom, his goal is still to help students find successful paths. 

“I want kids to learn,” Heinen said, “but I also want them to become good citizens.”

Cockrell brings keen fashion sense to apparel business

By Shannon Schrecengost ’08
Summer after summer as a kid, David Cockrell ’93 did everything from washing dishes to cleaning toilets at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp in Kalispell, Mont.

Fashion designer David Cockrell with his son, Harlow.

When the time came for college, Cockrell, the son of a Lutheran minister, says the choice was obvious. He enrolled at PLU.

“I didn’t have a plan,” Cockrell said. “I knew what I didn’t like, so I just focused on what I did like.”

Cockrell ended up majoring in graphic design. He and several Montana friends also started a snowboarding clothing line called Blackspoon Snowboard Wear.

After graduation, Cockrell moved around a bit, and even left fashion for a while.

But by 2000, he was back in the game, designing men’s and boy’s outer- and active-wear for Abercrombie & Fitch. In 2003, Cockrell moved to New York to join The Gap, where he is currently a designer of men’s outerwear.

In November 2006, Cockrell and his significant other had a son named Harlow. Since then, he says he has begun to contemplate a future beyond corporate life.

“I want to start my own line,”  Cockrell said. “At this point, I don’t need to be ‘cool fashion guy.’ I just want to do something lucrative and creative.” 

Childhood dream changes Lake Oswego church for the better

Colin Hartke ’08
Kelle Nelson-Bunkers ’98 decided at age 13 that she wanted to become a minister. She finally achieved her goal in early 2007 when she was appointed associate pastor of youth and families at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Lake Oswego, Ore.

 “I started talking with my pastor when I was fairly young about what a pastor does, and he was great about asking me questions to make sure that I really wanted to do this,” Nelson-Bunkers said. “I’ve never really doubted my choice.”

Zane Wilson ’62, that pastor from Nelson-Bunkers’ youth, attended her ordination in January, when she became the first female minister in the history of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and the youngest member of the pastoral staff. 

Nelson-Bunkers said the unique challenges of being a wife and mother of two young children, while also working as a pastor, became apparent when her 3-year-old son approached her while she was preaching and asked her to hold him.

 “I picked him up and then waited for a good chance to set him down,” Nelson-Bunkers said.  “Afterwards, a member of the congregation told me, ‘The moment your son came up to you, our church changed, and we were the better for it.’”

Art Ellickson ’61 and Louis Brunner ’50 also work with Nelson-Bunkers as pastors at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

Photo Top: Now retired, Air Force captain Ed Hrivnak flew more than 3,500 combat hours during his career, many between Iraq and Ramstein Air Base in Germany on this C-141, also now retired.