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Army student studies behavioral counseling to shatter soldier stereotypes

Ever since he was a kid, Joe Richardson knew he wanted to enlist in the military. Growing up with two active-duty parents, it was hard to imagine anything else. 

Initially, he wanted to attend a service academy — specifically the Air Force to become a medevac pilot — immediately after high school. 

“It was a completely easy decision for me, personally,” said Richardson, a junior at Westminster College majoring in environmental studies. “Because I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

In high school, these plans began to slightly shift. Realizing he was financially responsible for college tuition, he decided to enlist in the Army once he graduated — spending the summer before his senior year at basic training.

While he was there, he said he learned about “being a good person” and what makes a brave soldier. It dawned on him that he was expected to adhere to a strict stereotype: A brave man who showed no emotion. 

Growing up in a military family, Richardson said he saw this stereotype played out by his father.

As the months of training passed, he became injured shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. During those months of social distancing, he said he began thinking about what his future was in the military. 

He looked back on his training. While it was filled with “humbling” experiences, he said there were several challenges. 

“The military has some things that aren’t great,” Richardson said. “I’m not going to come out and say that everything is amazing.” 

The most notable for him? The strains it can cause on marriages and family relationships. 

That’s when his plans came together: He wanted to help people through behavioral counseling. 

“I wanted to do something that helped not only civilians but people in the military,” Richardson said. “I wanted to go into marriage and family counseling and I wanted to do behavioral counseling in the military to help those soldiers with marriage, family, PTSD or who just need someone to talk to.”

By doing this, he said he could shatter emotional stereotypes within the military — allowing everyone to come forward with their struggles to ask for help. 

Forum reporter Mekenzie Deneault sat down with Richardson to discuss the reasons why he chose to pursue behavioral counseling despite stereotypical expectations from the Army.  You can listen to the latest episode of Westminster Stories on our Spotify, SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts. 

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