From solider to behavioral health

When Michael Oldenburg joined Rosecrance 17 years ago, it wasn’t the dream job he wanted, but it was a calling he answered.

Oldenburg is the current clinical assessor for the problem-solving courts in Winnebago County. He held many positions at Rosecrance, but Rosecrance wasn’t his first employer.

Oldenburg knew he wanted to join the military from a young age. By the time he graduated high school, he was ready to begin his military career with the Army.

“I went on August 3, 2000. I remember a buddy of mine asking before I left if I was worried about going to war,” Oldenburg said.  “And I said, ‘Who are we going to go to war within the next four years?’”

He went to Fort Benning, Georgia, for boot camp. After training, he eventually found his home with the 173rd Airborne, where he became a scout.

On March 26, 2003, he participated in the largest combat jump since Grenada, Operation Northern Delay, when nearly 1,000 soldiers jumped from 10 planes and landed in Bashur, Iraq, the northern tip of the country. He also earned a Purple Heart during that same tour when he and his team took friendly fire.

“None of us got hit by an actual bullet,” Oldenburg said. “I don’t know how, but I had shrapnel go underneath my helmet and into the side of my head. That area tends to bleed a lot, so there was a lot of blood, but it was superficial. They airlifted me out, and I was back in within two days.”

After completing his tour in Iraq, he spent a year in Afghanistan before he was finally able to return home to his wife and his then-1-year-old son.

Once he returned to Rockford, he set his sights on working as a first responder. He was testing for the fire department when an opportunity to work as a unit staff at the Rosecrance Harrison Campus came along.

“I fell into my career at Rosecrance completely by accident. I told them when I got hired that it would be temporary because I was going to be a firefighter. I intended to only work at Rosecrance for six months and move on,” Oldenburg said.

He began to change his perspective over time and enrolled in courses related to the work he was doing at Rosecrance. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree, he realized that, although working at Rosecrance might not have been his initial plan, it was the path he was meant to take.

Plans were underway to open a veteran residential unit when he asked if he would be interested in joining that care team. After contemplating for a few days, he realized he was in the right place.

“I just remember thinking that God’s will was happening. It’s like divine intervention. I wasn’t expecting to do this, and here I am. If I had gone with my gut instinct, I wouldn’t be here, but something called me,” Oldenburg said.

This unexpected behavioral health calling led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in human services and a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. He has also grown his family—two daughters and a son—with his high school sweetheart. He feels fulfilled at work and has landed his new dream job as an outpatient therapist.

These days, he said, he likes to bring peace into the world and leads from a place of compassion and listening. His mother was very much the same way—a natural counselor—and Oldenburg sees the same qualities in his firstborn son, who is now 19 and in college.

“It comes naturally,” he said.