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Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

October 21,2016

Veterans Coming Home: Vets serving vets

BY SHIRLEY MIN


 

Fewer than 1 percent of the population signs up for the U.S. military, serving on behalf of the remaining 99 percent.

What drives that 1 percent to choose to sacrifice so much? This need to serve keeps coming up.

I interviewed a retired pastor in Wilmington named Tom Davis in May. He started a group called Interfaith Veterans’ Workgroup, a Wilmington-based organization for all veterans. Its mission is to deploy veterans on community-based service projects, recreating that sense of camaraderie and purpose many veterans miss after leaving the service.

Some miss it so much, they find other ways to keep serving, whether they know it or not. For example, several Delaware Army National Guardsmen in my husband’s unit work as police officers, MedEvac helicopter pilots or EMTs. They’re still serving their communities, but in different uniforms.

After Elinton De Los Santos left the Navy, he had a hard time finding work. The airplane mechanic’s father, who also served in the Navy, helped him navigate the transition to civilian life. With his father’s help, De Los Santos was able to take advantage of the resources available to him, like getting paid to go to school.

And now, the sailor is giving back. De Los Santos currently works for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, helping other transitioning service members figure out their next steps.

Jonathan Anthony Turner enlisted in the Marines in 1989, right after he graduated from high school. He deployed to Iraq during the first Gulf War through Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He left the Marines in 1993.

“I think I served my country honorably,” Turner said. “I just wanted to give the civilian life a chance, see what I can do in the civilian world.”

In the Marines, Turner was a unit level circuit switch operator. Simply put, he dealt with high-tech telecommunications and security lines. He said after he got out of the military, he was offered several jobs in that field.

But there was something missing. Turner missed the camaraderie and family aspect of the military so much so that he joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in late 2000 and has not looked back since. He said he feels a tremendous sense of pride serving his country.

Former Marine Jason Hassinger works for veterans service organization, Disabled American Veterans, helping veterans file for VA or Dept. of Defense benefits. Before the military bug bit him, Hassinger always thought he would be a cop. He said service just runs in his blood.

Army veteran Cassondra Flanagan’s day job also revolves around serving veterans. Flanagan coordinates a women’s veterans center at the Veterans Multi-Service Centerin Philadelphia.

“We are focusing on alternative treatments…that kind of softening or other ways of coping with some of your stresses, until you feel like you can trust yourself,” Flanagan said of the stresses female veterans face coming off of deployment and after leaving the military.

Flanagan had a tough time getting into mommy-mode after two back-to-back, year-long deployments. When she first left, Flanagan’s daughter was an infant. When she came home after her second deployment, her daughter was walking and talking.

“That is a lot to take in at one time in your life at once. It will cause a whole upheaval inside,” she explained. “Where my brothers-in-arms could easily go sit at a bar for three years…until they get themselves in a better place, I have so many responsibilities that I can’t do that.”

She would also like to establish a veteran-specific shelter in Philadelphia for women veterans, specifically women with children.

Lastly, New York Army National Guardsman Patrick Edouard is working with theNational Federation of Black Veterans Network.

“They’re connecting veterans to resources, especially veterans that are minorities,” Edouard said. For example, the Philadelphia-area nonprofit helps veterans of color with their resumes, social media accounts, housing and informs them about various retail discounts offered to vets. The organization’s mission is to help veterans become economically self-sufficient.

When I asked Flanagan about this recurring theme I noticed of vets serving vets, she explained it this way:

“I think you feel a certain civil duty, it’s just embedded in you,” Flanagan said. “There’s a certain identity that you pick up from wearing a uniform and the longer you wear it, when you no longer have to wear it, you still feel that identity is yours, even though other people can’t see it. So, it’s almost like you do the other things that people can recognize, and see the serviceman in you in other ways.”