I was struggling this morning to figure out what I wanted to write for my first blog. Like most of us, I decided to procrastinate. Often when I intentionally delay a project, I will read something that’s intended to stir the thought process. Usually the process works, and I decided subconsciously to open up the latest copy of Stars and Stripes, Volume 8 # 328 dated 06MAR11.
“Stars and Stripes” is a newspaper that both Military members and civilians can receive. The paper covers national news, publishes opinions, covers the wars, and even has a “Sudoku” section. I am currently stationed in Afghanistan and do not get a hard copy, so like many of us, I pull it up on the internet. After I opened the Stars and Stripes’ link for today’s issue, an article leapt out at me from the front page. The title: “The 1 Percent” Officer picked to be Gates’ aid give voice to fallen troops. By Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post
Lieutenant General (LTG) John F. Kelly is pictured hugging a Marine while he awards a Purple Heart to him for losing an arm in Afghanistan. After 10 years of War, we are used to reading stories about scenes like this, but something in this article prompted me to read further so I did.
It quickly became apparent that Lance Corporal Sebastian Gallegos served under LTG Kelly’s son, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Robert M. Kelly. Like so many other Veterans, 2LT Kelly comes from a family steeped in military tradition, service, and culture. Tears came to my eyes when I read that 2LT Kelly had been killed by a landmine. Words really can’t explain the emotions I feel, and only a Veteran would truly understand. It’s just a simple fact.
I stopped to pause and reflect about this article and moved on to the next. On page 6, there was a story titled: “Homeless vet’s burial a show of solidarity.” Written by Sarah Eddington of the Associated Press, the article describes how a 20 year homeless Air Force Veteran was buried with a full Honor Guard.
During graduate school, I served in such ceremonies as part of the Missouri Army National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Program. While serving with the program to earn extra money, my job was to present the American Flag to a family member. On occasion, probably about once per month, we would intern a homeless Veteran. The caskets for the homeless were typically made of a hard in-expensive cardboard like material, and family members were usually not present. There were no flowers, and I usually presented the flags to a Funeral Director or to a local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Volunteer.
With the homeless Veteran laid to rest, I would stand on a street curb waiting for the next funeral to arrive, usually with family and plenty of flowers accompanying the next procession. During the interim between services, I had time to reflect to myself while standing on these curbs. What happened so differently in the lives of these individuals? How did one person die alone, while the other left this world in the hands of people who care? What are the second and third order affects of all of this? I instantly found myself re-living some of these same thoughts, and then I remembered what I’d just read in the first article.
My eyes instantly returned to a quote on Pg. 5 by former MO Congressman Ike Skelton. Skelton’s statement served as a catalyst for my thoughts. He “recently lamented to Foreign Policy magazine that ‘those who protect us are psychologically divorced from those who are being protected.’” Does his claim apply to both the General’s son and the homeless Veteran?
The implications for Congressman Skelton’s assertion are wide reaching, affecting not only those of us in the counseling profession, but also private sector employers, the Church, all faiths and denominations included, Veterans and their families. I am starting this blog to explore the how and the why? In Army terms, we call this the “so what factor.”
My intent for this blog is not to write tear jerking posts nor is my goal to lead people to have pity on Veterans and their families. They don’t want it. Instead, I desire to generate discussions and thoughts about approaching Veteran and family care from a cross cultural and integrated perspective. I want to enlighten readers about the military sub culture, affects of service on life span development, and jointly explore with this blog’s readers the current assistance and care being provided, both professional and volunteer.
In the end, I would like to develop something new, an approach that is not dependent on the VA or insurance companies for subsidies, yet remaining profitable and healing for all involved. In future blogs, I will share some of the initial concepts and ideas that I have, and I openly request critical analysis of my proposals.
On another note, I chose my profile picture because I have a passion for cooking and entertaining. The picture was taken at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Morales Frazier. Some of the most productive counseling sessions I have with Soldiers are during these moments.
I am looking forward to getting to know all of you.
Chris Allen is an Army Officer currently serving in Afghanistan who counsels Soldiers on a volunteer basis and will pursue licensure upon his return. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.