Vanguard Soldiers visit veterans at VA hospital
November 23, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Every veteran has a story to tell.
Whether these stories bubble quietly on the surface, or lay buried deep within the heart of memory, each of them are an inspirational fusion of historic intrigue and personal triumph.
On Veterans Day, Soldiers from the 4-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division, visited veterans seeking care at the Carl Vinson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dublin, Ga., to both honor the veterans for their contributions and personal sacrifices for the nation throughout the past century, and to provide a sounding board for the veterans' stories so their tales may live on in the hearts of a younger generation.
The "Sentinel" Soldiers, outfitted smartly in their dress uniforms, visited veterans throughout the hospital, from those just stopping by to receive medications, to those residing in the hospital for long term medical care. In each ward they visited, the veteran's eyes lit up and their stories flowed.
One Navy veteran spoke of Feb. 23, 1945, the day he saw the flags raised on Iwo Jima, Japan, during World War II. An Army veteran talked about the difficulties he experienced in distinguishing friend from foe while serving in the jungles of Vietnam. And another former Soldier joked about his days as a lower-enlisted Soldier pulling kitchen patrol duty.
One veteran summed up how he--and many of his fellow veterans--felt about the Soldiers making the visit.
"I'm doing a whole lot better with all you young people around," the veteran said.
Lieutenant Colonel Matthew D. McCollum, commander of 4-3 BSTB, said that making connections with veterans who have served in the past helps prepare today's Soldiers for whatever lays ahead in the future.
"When it's miserable, when it's hard and it's dangerous, and when Soldiers are physically and mentally exhausted and scared, two things keep them moving forward, not back, up the hill instead of down, and towards the enemy instead of away," McCollum said. "The first is a love for their fellow Soldiers and not wanting to let their battle buddy down, and the second one is a connection--a realization and a belief that they're part of something bigger than themselves."
Sergeant John R. Berger, a native of Winchester Center, Conn., and a human intelligence collector with Company B., 4-3 BSTB, said meeting the veterans was very inspirational.
"Even though I'm a veteran myself, I couldn't picture doing what they did [and I] couldn't picture myself back then," Berger said. "I've [accomplished] some things, but thinking about what they've done ... gives me something to work toward."
Specialist Essence L. Binion, a native of Jackson, Tenn., and a signal support systems specialist with Company C, 4-3 BSTB, agreed, and said that it meant a lot to her to meet veterans who served in the wars she learned about in high school.
"[They did] what I'm doing today," Binion said. "They fought for our rights and we should continue to do so."
The visit was perhaps most poignant, however, for Spc. Troy S. Stemen, a human intelligence collector with Company B, 4-3 BSTB.
The Columbia City, Ind., native said that meeting with the veterans not only provided him the opportunity to thank great past examples of public servants, but allowed him an opportunity to honor the memory of his grandfather, Ed, who served in the Air Force in World War II, and passed away in August. Stemen said his grandfather's service was his inspiration for enlisting in the Army.
"Today would have been his birthday," Stemen said.
After they visited with veterans, the "Sentinels" attended the hospitals' Veterans Day ceremony, which featured guest speakers, music and poetry provided by members of the Dublin community.
Berger said the event served a purpose that was bigger than himself or the group of Soldiers he traveled with.
"It gives a resounding message--veterans supporting veterans," Berger said. "I think that's a pretty powerful thing on Veterans Day."