Woman On A Mission: Becoming a Marine, winning the Mrs. Wisconsin title, and helping vets
By Dorothy Bliskey
Kim Galske, 42, a former Marine who was in military police work and attained the rank of sergeant, currently wears the crown as Mrs. Wisconsin – a pageant she won last March in statewide competition. It seems there couldn’t be more of a contrast in Galske’s interests. Yet, those two feats – her Marine Corps experience and winning the Mrs. Wisconsin title — go hand-in-hand.
“As Mrs. Wisconsin, it’s your job to not just be judged in evening gowns and swimsuits, but to promote your platform – to advocate for a cause. Mine was Salute the Troops,” Galske said, noting it’s an organization in Wisconsin that assists veterans facing tough times.
Galske is the current Executive Director of Wisconsin’s Salute the Troops which helps support veterans and their families with financial assistance, food, clothing and housing assistance, job searches, business start-up assistance, suicide prevention, posttraumatic stress syndrome issues and more. Funded through community donations and local fundraisers, it’s a crucial service for veterans who are homeless or need help transitioning back into civilian life.
“I wanted to enter the pageant to spread the word about Salute the Troops and the needs of veterans,” Galske said. “My platform was something I was already involved in and passionate about in my work with veterans. It was aligned perfectly with my crown.”
Through hundreds of public appearances as Mrs. Wisconsin, Galske has been able to bring public awareness to Salute the Troops and the needs of veterans who are struggling or in need of assistance. Her main emphasis, she says, is on mental health. “I like to focus on suicide prevention and mental health to make sure that every veteran at least is heard and knows they have a place to go when they feel like they have none,” Galske said. “My mission is to make sure that no veteran feels left out, alone, or unappreciated.”
Galske knows that feeling first-hand. At one point, she was a displaced veteran — a single mom with a young child. “Even though my time of homelessness was short, I still didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to. I felt very isolated.”
She was able to turn things around when, at the urging of a friend, she moved from Nevada to Wisconsin to get a fresh start. “She told me, ‘Kim, you have all the tools. You’ve done it for others. Do it for yourself.’”
After living in Fond du Lac and working in the banking business, Galske began to build a new life — one with many positives for herself and her son. That included meeting and marrying Kevin Galske, an Air Force veteran who is Fond du Lac County’s Sheriff Chief Deputy. Together, with Kim’s son Brandon, now 17, the family of three lives in a home they purchased along Fond du Lac’s lakeshore – a location that has also become the quaint setting for Stone Oak Coffee Haus — a coffee shop she and Kevin opened last fall on the main level.
“My husband and I visited a coffee house in Tennessee two years ago and fell in love with the idea. We thought if it ever presented itself in the future, we’d love to open one in Fond du Lac,” Galske said. “We also firmly believe in servant leadership and giving back to our communities. Kevin and I do so much work in the community, and this is our way of being able to reconnect with all who have supported us.”
Even in that setting she’s embracing other veterans, such as a coffee roaster from Campbellsport who is a U.S. Marine combat veteran. “Along with another coffee roaster we use, we proudly brew his blend called Operation Coffee. It’s a way to show support for fellow veterans.”
These days she finds herself in a whirlwind of activities – business ventures, the many presentations she gives as Mrs. Wisconsin, her volunteer work and commitment to Salute the Troops.
When time permits, Galske enjoys physical fitness activities, bike riding, horseback riding, and kayaking. “Most of all, I love riding my Harley Davidson with my husband.”
The journey to get to this point in her life has been an uphill climb, starting as a teenager when she knew she wanted to become a Marine. “I wanted to be part of a family,” Galske said.
She signed up for the U.S. Marine’s delayed-entry program during her last two years of high school in Grandville, Michigan. There, she played sports and was a cheerleader who had ideas of entering the nursing field. While those plans didn’t materialize, she studied at the University of Phoenix after her Marine service ended, earning an Associate’s Degree in Business.
Galske officially became a U.S. Marine after basic training in 1996, an experience she described as “extremely challenging mentally and physically,” but one she says she’d repeat again. “I graduated number one out of my entire platoon in my dress blues.”
She went on to serve until 2001 and was based at Camp Pendleton in California – first as a truck driver and mechanic and then in a military police role, reaching the rank of sergeant.
“The Marine Corps taught me my core values: honor courage and commitment,” Galske said. “It taught me to always go toward something, be confident enough to conquer it, treat people well and give back.”
“The hardest part for me in the beginning was just being a woman in the Marine Corps,” she said. “At the time I went in, women made up only 2% of the Marine Corps. And most of us had male jobs.” She was part of the 1st Marine Division, which Galske said is a small elite group. “It’s like the tip of spear – the first to fight and the first to be called.”
“The Marines always treated me like family from the beginning,” Galske said. “The traditions, the uniforms, and the high level of expectation are what I wanted to be a part of as a Marine.”
In the past year, Galske joined the Army National Guard 105th Calvary based out of Madison where she serves as an assistant to the Chaplain. “I missed the camaraderie, the connecting I had in the Marines. I missed wearing the uniform and being in a supportive group,” Galske said, noting there was a need for someone in the assistant chaplain position – a role that pairs nicely with her work to help veterans through Salute the Troops.
Looking back on her U.S. Marine Corps experience, Galske says she learned great lessons. “The Marine Corps taught me that no matter how hard it can be, everything you go through happens for a reason and makes you a stronger person on the other side.”
NOTE: To learn more about Salute the Troops and helping veterans, go to www.salutethetroopswi.org.