GREENFIELD – In the armed forces, every individual is part of a team, every team has a leader. Individual impulses take a backseat to teamwork.
When soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines retire, they can feel rudderless without that regimented structure, said Kurt Vetters, commander of American Legion Post 119.
But give them a purpose, a unifying goal, and their service will continue long after their uniforms have faded. Vetters believes veterans who take on community responsibilities after their military careers end are more successful at reintegrating into society, and with that in mind, he and leaders of veterans organizations — and other patriotic charities — have focused on getting their members to give back in a number of ways in the past year.
People think of veterans as a fragile population, perhaps imagining soldiers living with post-traumatic stress disorder or injuries caused by war, Vetters said.
“That’s not the narrative that plays out every day,” he said. “Veterans want a sense of purpose and accomplishment. …What they miss is belonging, and that’s what we’re trying to get back for them.”
Members of the local American Legions have adopted Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center, pounding fence posts, purchasing fencing and clearing brush around the pastures where the therapy horses graze. It’s a natural partnership, Vetters said. The therapy center offers a program pairing vets with therapy horses and children with disabilities.
His group of veterans also has lent its efforts to collecting toys for Toys for Tots, a national organization run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, because the local collection effort lacked manpower. This year, they volunteered to march alongside the large group of children in this year’s Riley Festival Flower Parade, providing support and security at the event, Vetters said.
Members of the Sons of the American Legion, an organization made up of descendants of people who served in the Armed Forces, also contributed members to that effort, said commander Gary McDaniel.
His group currently has about 20 members, but he believes a revival of veterans’ support is coming, he said. The group has responded by opening up its membership to men and women who are or were descendants of members of the armed forces, he said.
“We can’t turn away help for our veterans,” he said. “Moms and sisters and brothers need an organization, too.”
The New Palestine American Legion, Post 182, holds a weekly poker night and uses the proceeds to bolster the efforts of a number of groups, including the Boy Scouts and Southern Hancock School Corp., said commander Tom Ayer. In the last five years, the group has contributed nearly $70,000 to area organizations, he said.
Last year, his legion hosted a veteran-themed poetry contest among county elementary and middle schools, which Indiana American Legion leadership wants to expand into a statewide program, Ayer said.
The manpower provided by veterans can help a number of organizations and efforts, he said. He recalled after Hurricane Harvey struck land, he posted to the Greenfield American Legion’s Facebook page saying he had supplies and a place to take them; he just needed someone to transport them.
Within five minutes, half a dozen people had volunteered themselves and their trucks to move the supplies to the storm-ravaged areas of Texas, he said.
“That’s the spirit of what we’re trying to do,” Vetters said. “Those of us who were in the military are used to being organized, and it’s fairly easy for us to organize ourselves.”