It is my honor to present a post today written by a gentleman I met at least twelve years ago; when my son John and his son, Joe were Cub Scouts. Bob has served our nation and continues to serve by helping those who serve our nation now. Please welcome him by reading his words.
What do we do when it is over?
Look around your town and you will see Blue Star Banners in the windows of families and businesses. What does this banner stand for? The Blue Star Banner lets others know that a family member in the home is proudly serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The more stars, the more family members in the service.
As Americans we do our best to support the troops during overseas contingency operations, such as OIF, OEF, and the Blue Star Service Banner tradition reminds every one of us that war touches every neighborhood in our land.
It is easy to support our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. We send care packages full of cookies, shampoos, lotions, DVDs and many more comfort items. The hard part is what we do for their families while they are deployed and for that soldier when they come home. When our soldier (I use soldier to refer to all services) comes home, what do we do… we have a big party. After the party comes the hard part of reintegration into the world. (The ‘world’ is somewhere that the soldier isn’t at the time, i.e., two guys in Iraq talking about getting back to the world: the United States).
Our career ends, we say goodbye to comrades or worse yet leave parts of ourselves behind. What do we do…with our military identity behind us? As a serviceman in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard, we served proudly. If we needed support, we knew who to turn to. It was all there for us, the Commanders and Sergeants ensuring that we have what we need and are paying our bills. There are Medics and Chaplains to heal our bodies and souls. And in the service we rely on comrades, for whom we would lay down our lives. Then after a ceremony and party …it is over. Our friends that we see every day are gone; we have crossed over to the other side and now a new mission.
For soldiers and especially whether National Guard or Reserve, it can be a very abrupt welcome home from the high war pace of 20 hour days to the dismal 2 hour commute of work. How can we help them cope? At the end of WWI, LTC Theodore Roosevelt Jr had a desire to raise morale. He convinced General Pershing that they should create an association to help wounded comrade and their spouses and children. 90 years later, The American Legion is Still Serving America. We are there to provide financial assistance, outreach and support and each year nationally The American Legion donates millions of dollars and countless hours to programs such as the Special Olympics, Children’s Miracle Network, and Scouting of all types. (To see more American Legion programs visit http://legion.org/programs)
In each conflict since WWI, veterans have reached out to the newer veterans, for a time during Vietnam older veterans did not know how to help returning soldiers. The silent problems are the most difficult to deal with. Most of us can remember our fathers going down to the Legion, Elks or other Lodges to have a drink with the boys. They did this to help cope with what they had experienced. At the time, that was the accepted way to deal with their problems. During Vietnam some veterans turned to drugs and alcohol to wash away unsettling memories. No one sat around at home and talked to their wives about seeing a friend die in front of them, they just bottled it up.
Today more injured soldiers are returning from the battlefield through advances in modern medicine. On 9 April 2003, one Marine on his second tour in Iraq was the victim of an ambush resulting in losing both hands to an RPG blast that also punctured his femoral artery. Thanks to modern medicine, less than 2 weeks later he was sitting up in bed in Walter Reed and beginning to move around. Legion Post 295 Gaithersburg MD, started a program called Operation Provide Comfort. We worked to get the word out that the soldiers needed supplies that the Government is prohibited from buying, i.e. pants, shoes, socks and underwear. Operation Provide Comfort supplied needed items at the right time. Now there are countless programs doing the same as many more seriously wounded are making their way home. They continue to need our help. This can come in many ways: being there for them, helping them get a warrior dog for assistance, assistance with finding work, reasonable living accommodation or with furthering their education. Another way is financial aid to help them get back on their feet. We’re limited financially from such things as buying a home or a car for a soldier. Getting wounded is not akin to hitting the lottery. Providing funds to adapt a home or vehicle to a soldier’s disability is certainly in line with out programs. We need to help these soldiers get acclimated back into civilian life, providing guidance and in some cases, yes financial assistance to put them on track.
Just as I was working on this message, I received word that a young family needs to pay for a new transmission for their vehicle. They are being charged $3500 for the second time in 8 months. Just 8 months ago the replaced the transmission with a new one for $3600. Can you say ripoff? And they do not have the funds to pay for it. Their story, Johnny (not his real name) is in the Maryland National Guard and Mary (alias as well) was regular Navy when they met. The got married after they both completed their tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom, moved to Maryland to start a family. They now have a 2 year old child. They cannot afford daycare so only he is working and not making much, she is looking for employment. The family turned to the Army Emergency Relief and was turned down because he was not serving on active duty. They have already borrowed thousands from their parents and there is no more. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial American Legion Post 295 is able to donate $200 at this time to assist them and is working on more.
Although I never went into combat, my specialty was terrorist devices. I was a Bomb (EOD) Technician with the US Army. I was fortunate to travel to locations like Jerusalem, Cairo and parts of Africa. Much of my service was performed in the Washington DC area providing bomb disposal support and supporting Presidential and VIP missions throughout the world. Everyday of my career was worth it, even if I was bitching at the time. On the last day of June 1998, I took off my uniform for the last time, no ceremony, no parade, just over.
I was motivated by a desire to serve those still on active duty as well as those who had come before me. I could use my skills to serve, by volunteering with the American Legion. As time went on, I was elected to positions of more authority, but what drew me to want to participate is one of the lines of the Preamble to the Legion’s Constitution, “We sanctify our comradeship, by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.” I encourage everyone who reads this to volunteer to assist all veterans, especially those who are living alone, those who are homeless, and don’t get care packages. You can do this by joining with almost 3 million Legionnaires in The American Legion, as a member (veteran) a Son of the American Legion or as an American Legion Auxiliary member. Together we can continue to make a difference.
Still Serving America!
Commander American Legion Post 295 Gaithersburg MD www.post295.org or post295.blogspot.com
Commander, Montgomery County Council, The American Legion Department of Maryland mcamericanlegion