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Arizona State University junior Christopher Cadeau wants to help change the narrative that veterans are either homeless or heroes, and he has created a radio show dedicated solely to telling more diverse stories of the people who’ve served.
“Veterans Diaries” wrapped its first season last month on KASC-The Blaze, ASU’s AM radio station.
A 30-year-old sports journalism major at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Cadeau said was pleased with the results of his first semester behind the microphone. He is also pushing to get better.
“Honestly, I’m never satisfied, and it’s hard for me to accept praise,” said Cadeau, whose background includes eight years in the Marines. He also has five years of recovery.
“I once asked my sponsor, ‘When does this chip on my shoulder go away? When am I going to be OK with where I am in my life?’”
That chip developed as a young child growing up in Canton, Michigan, Cadeau said. He cites his parents’ divorce at age 4 and the rape of a sibling as the first of several emotional blows. As a teen, Cadeau got into trouble with the law and embraced drugs and alcohol. He knew the Marines could turn his life around.
“I was very street smart and good at evaluating pros and cons,” Cadeau said. “The pros were: You’re going to leave this situation; you’re going to get three meals a day; you’re going to have a career.”
He said the cons were just as clear. “If you stay here, you will go to jail.”
Cadeau said he joined the Marines in 2006 and ended up as a fighter jet mechanic, working on F-18s in Miramar, California, near San Diego. He transitioned back into civilian life and took advantage of his GI Bill benefits, eventually being accepted into ASU in December 2015.
He wanted to pursue sports journalism after a heartfelt discussion with a sponsor in his recovery program.
“My sponsor asked, ‘What do you love to do?’ I told him I love sports journalism and have always been infatuated with it,” Cadeau said. “If you add up all the hours I’ve spent in sports from the moment I come home to the time I’m on my smartphone looking up results, I need to find a way to get paid for this.”
He also called ASU’s Pat Tillman Center for Veterans and spoke to Joanna Sweatt, a former military advocate at the center. Cadeau said her first words were, “Everything’s going to be OK.”
Sweatt recruited Cadeau for the center’s work-study program. He currently works for the center’s outreach team, led by Matt Schmidt.
“We’re always trying to find new ways to engage student vets, and because Chris is a journalism major, the idea of a radio show came naturally,” said Schmidt, a recruitment specialist. “Chris is a natural leader and saw this not only as a challenge, but as way to impact lives and change the narrative about veterans.”
Schmidt said Cadeau shows how veterans are returning to college and civilian life and making a difference in their communities. He said stereotypes pigeonhole and marginalize returning soldiers; Cadeau's show helps change that perception.
The broadcast runs from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. each Wednesday during the semester. Cadeau said the premise of “Veterans Diaries” is about empowerment and overcoming obstacles.
“There are already a lot of sports shows on The Blaze, and I wanted to do something that had impact on the community," Cadeau said. "Stories one hears on the show can help other veterans, and civilians can see they aren’t broken and everyone has hiccups in their lives."
Cadeau said it took him a while to catch on before he hit his stride, and stopped a practice he employed in the beginning of the show.
“I’d conduct these pre-interviews with my guests, and they’d sit with me and tell me all these great things. And when we’d get on the air, it was crickets,” Cadeau said. “I discovered by knowing all the answers beforehand, I’d be leading them into questions I already knew the answer to, and it took my curiosity away. I don’t do that any longer.”
Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Ian Parkinson, who was the first guest on the show and has been interviewed by international media, said Cadeau was an excellent host.
“The dialogue didn’t feel set up, and it was organic,” said Parkinson, a ASU graphic information technology major. “Chris isn’t afraid to ask questions because he can relate to me because of his military background. He has a passion for this show, and he made me feel I could be open about a lot of things.”
Around the sixth episode, Cadeau says he realized he wasn’t serving his entire audience. He had been ignoring angry vets who needed to vent.
“If I’m not highlighting the entire military demographic, then I’m not doing my job as a journalist,” Cadeau said. “Then I started bringing them on the air, and noticed some of the shows started taking off.”
By taking off, Cadeau means some of his most popular shows would receive 850 clicks and more than two dozen shares.
Cadeau has interviewed amputees, Vietnam vets, researchers, advocates, politicians and film directors. Their discussions range from head injuries to sexual harassment to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cadeau said he tries “to keep people in their ‘whys.’”
“I don’t want to know what people do; I can do an Internet search and figure that out,” he said. “But when you talk about why they do what they do, everything starts to resonate.”
Sweatt was on “Veterans Diaries” for a two-part episode and called the show cathartic.
“His show serves to tell stories about the military experience, the transition road and individuals’ victories in the face of adversity,” said Sweatt, COO for the Veterans Directory.
For the upcoming semester, Cadeau is preparing for at least a dozen shows, including a Pat Tillman tribute with friends, teammates and other associates.
“The show is good now, but I’m really looking forward to where it will be in a year,” Schmidt said.