NEWS | Sept. 16, 2021

Honoring Northern Michigan’s Hometown Heroes

By Bruce Huffman Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

When Senior Airman Jessica Selissen was given the opportunity to create and produce a podcast during her college internship at 9&10 news in Cadillac this summer, she knew exactly what she wanted to focus on: honoring Northern Michigan’s veterans. The Northern Michigan Hometown Heroes podcast she created for the news station’s website is Selissen’s way of honoring veterans for their sacrifice and service.

According to Selissen, her respect for those in uniform emerged while in middle school. “When I was in the eighth grade, a recent graduate from Boyne City High School, Army Private 1st Class Jackie Lee Diener II, was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan shortly after his unit arrived there in 2011,” said Selissen.

“The news of his death was a big shock for the Boyne City community and everyone was devastated,” she remembered. “Before that, I never really thought about joining the military or even what it meant to serve our country. This tragedy, and the way the community rallied behind the family, is one of the reasons I decided to join the Air Force.”

After four years of active-duty service at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Selissen returned to Michigan in 2019 and joined the Michigan Air National Guard’s 217th Communications Squadron at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. She is using her GI Bill benefits to attend Northern Michigan University (NMU) in Marquette and is pursuing a degree in multi-media production with a minor in journalism.

When the news director at 9&10 News asked her to produce something compelling for the podcast debut, she reached out to the parents of the fallen soldier from Boyne City whose death had so greatly impacted her.
“I told PFC Diener’s mother that I wanted to honor and remember his service,” said Selissen.

Still mourning the tragic loss of their son, Jack and Val Diener agreed to talk about Jackie for the first time publicly on Selissen’s podcast. They said it was important for people to know who Jackie was outside the Army.

The 47-minute podcast included conversations about his childhood, his involvement with the 4-H club and the various sports he loved including football, bowling and wrestling. They talked about his ability to make friends wherever he went, and his adventures as a foreign exchange student in Europe during his junior year in high school.

They also talked about the short time he spent in the Army as a Cavalry Scout with the 10th Mountain Division before he was killed in Afghanistan. Jackie enlisted in March 2011 and was killed in combat just a few months later on Nov. 21, 2011.

“Jackie loved everything and everybody,” said Val, Jackie’s mother. “He always wanted to do more.” According to Val, the family is amazed at how many lives their son touched in his 20 years. She says their door will always remain open to anyone who wants to come pay their respect and share their stories about Jackie.

Jackie Diener was the first from his community to be killed in combat and a statue honoring him was added to the War Memorial in Boyne City’s Veterans’ Park in 2013.

“Even though he’s no longer with us on earth, he’s still with us,” said Selissen during the interview. “Everyone remembers when he passed, but now they remember who he was.”

Before Selissen started classes at NMU, she volunteered a few months at the D.J. Jacobetti veteran’s home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She knows how important it is for veterans and their families to get the benefits they deserve. “There are more resources available for veterans than people realize and the podcast helps to raise awareness of these benefits,” she said.

Selissen has completed six podcast episodes, all focused on honoring veterans. The other episodes feature stories about organizations such as the Mid-Michigan Honor Flights and the Brave Hearts Estate in Pellston, Mich. The honor flights network flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their respective war memorials at no cost. The Brave Hearts Estate is a retreat center that provides recreational opportunities to wounded veterans and their families. It also attempts to aid veterans in recovering from physical and emotional injuries sustained during military conflicts.

“Helping our veterans and connecting them with the benefits they earned is the least we can do to honor their sacrifices,” said Selissen.

Selissen returned to school at NMU in August and has been offered a full-time job at 9&10 News when she graduates in December of this year. She hopes to resume the podcast when she returns to the station.

Individuals looking for more information about veteran’s benefits may contact the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency at 800-MICH-VET or email at MVAAResourceCenter@michigan.gov.