ROCKINGHAM — On the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Richmond County residents honored their veterans with a 21-gun salute and words of remembrance.
“We enjoy a lot of freedom and it doesn’t come easy,” said County Commissioner Thad Ussery. “You can never do enough.”
The area’s veterans organizations placed wreaths by the graves of fallen soldiers at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4203. These organizations provide an essential service to soldiers trying to find their way in civilian life, according to Brent Hawkins, a Clemson University professor who spoke at the ceremony.
“Community integration isn’t about how ready the veterans are to integrate but how ready communities are to integrate veterans,” he said.
The wars in the Middle East, he continued, have presented a unique problem to the current generation as compared to previous wars: because recent wars have a higher survival rate, there is a higher rate of veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries that make participation in civilian life difficult.
To address these challenges, Hawkins said veterans need strong social support and to build “self-efficacy,” or a belief in their ability to overcome challenges.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is the first stop for many veterans when they come home but has a history of mixed results, Hawkins said, and local veterans organizations are able to fill in the gaps in service and have gotten results.
He encouraged residents to get involved with local nonprofits which often struggle with staffing and funding issues, and cited studies showing that connecting veterans with nonprofits has improved marital satisfaction and built feelings of camaraderie for them.
Hawkins recounted a story of a veteran who came home from service overseas with injuries and PTSD and didn’t have any veteran services in his area. Through his rehabilitation for his injury, he was connected with a recreational therapist who introduced him to adapted sports. He went on to compete professionally where he connected with other veterans and is now “thriving.”
“Helping vets feel like they’re a part of the community is invaluable,” Hawkins said.
Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Charlie Tyler, read a poem he wrote called “In Foreign Lands.” Tyler, a pastor and chaplain, said the poem was about the experience of being a soldier overseas who doesn’t know if he’ll come back home.
The last stanza of the poem reads:
“Do carry on our banner high
Even though we say good-bye
Hold it high for all to see
What life to us did seem to be”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.