Meet Todd Simonson

Learning and Development Specialist, Sanford Health

For Todd Simonson, it was a sense of service to his country that pushed him to make a big decision as a teenager. He enlisted in the United States Navy right out of high school.

“People ask me why I chose the Navy. Why not the Army or Air Force?” Todd says. “At that point, I was in Valley City, North Dakota. I’d never been away from home before and wanted to go somewhere far away. I knew I’d get that in the Navy.”

After completing boot camp on the west coast, Todd was sent to Oakland, California, which used to have a Navy hospital. It was there where he met the nurses and mentors who would set him on a new path. He decided to become a nurse in the Navy.

“They used to have that saying – join the Navy and see the world. That’s exactly what I did,” Todd says.

He’s been to the west coast, Canada, Japan, southeast Asia, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Cuba and more. He had a blast exploring other countries, from scuba diving in coral reefs to hiking on mountaintops.

One of the highlights of his travels was the food. In Okinawa, Japan, he developed a love for sushi and sashimi that he still has today. He also gushes about the Italian fare at Sardinia.

Other highlights of his naval career were three humanitarian missions. For these missions, the Navy would bring hospital ships to countries without good health care and they’d offer clinic appointments and surgeries to people in need. These missions brought Todd to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia.

“We have these huge ships. It’s hard to imagine the size of these things unless you’re on them,” he says. “It’s basically like taking the Sanford Medical Center in Fargo and putting it on the water.”

About three years ago, Todd retired from the reserves with the rank of lieutenant commander. But he wasn’t done serving.

“I had some extra time. I wanted to continue giving back and also connect with other veterans,” he says.

It took some time to find the perfect volunteer opportunity, but he eventually came across it by happenstance. At work, Todd noticed a pickup truck with several stickers. One of the stickers was for American Heroes Outdoors.

When Todd tracked down the co-worker who owned the pickup truck, he learned her husband ran the organization, a nonprofit that connects veterans to outdoor activities like hunting or fishing. Later, he got a call from David Morse, who invited him to an upcoming American Heroes Outdoors retreat.

Since then, Todd has raised money and awareness for the nonprofit. He’s also seen it work firsthand.

“Guys that served don’t always like talking about their time in war. But if you get them on a boat with other veterans, all of the sudden, they’re talking about everything,” he says. “When we get back, they’ll say to me that they’ve never slept so well before. That’s because of what they talked about that day. It helps them heal.”

Some veterans’ stories would go untold if not for American Heroes Outdoors.

Todd also started volunteering with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy. While he’s not a licensed law enforcement officer, he went through similar trainings. With the department, he works to build community connections and supervise local events.

“It has been really rewarding. I got into it because of my family. My dad was a police officer and my godfathers were a sheriff and a game warden. It’s in my blood,” he says.

This year, Todd was chosen by his peers as the Reserve Deputy of the Year for Cass County. The year before, he was honored as a Scheels Hometown Hero for his work with American Heroes Outdoors.

He also volunteers on the veteran’s committee at Sanford Health to help make the organization a great place for patients and employees who have served.

“All three of the organizations I work with are connected in their missions,” he says. “All three value community service and that is awesome.”