By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterFebruary 6, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 6, 2014) -- From sergeants major to young NCOs, a group of Fort Rucker Soldiers went the extra mile Jan. 31 to make sure a group of veterans had a little extra to get them through the weekend -- by lending a helping hand and providing a listening ear.
Twenty Soldiers from Fort Rucker, along with the Wiregrass Sergeants Major Association visited 50 veterans in Tuskegee at a veterans' homeless facility, as well as Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System Home, which is an assisted living facility.
And for the past seven years, the Soldiers who have taken part in the trip come back different people, said Marlin Smith, WSMA president.
"When you spend time visiting with veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other past conflicts you can't help but come away humbled and thankful for those that sacrificed so much to secure the freedom that we enjoy today," he said.
That holds true for Staff Sgt. Megan Payton, 6th MP detachment, who participated and said that she cannot wait to go back.
"I was taken aback by the situation," she said. "It's so sad because now the Army has all of these organizations that help us and our challenges, but these guys didn't have any of that when they were in. To see them struggle -- it was mind blowing, but I am glad I could make a difference in their day."
The NCO Academy and the Fort Rucker fire station donated more than $600, and donated items such as water, lip balm, socks and other requested items to help the veterans that they visited.
"There are a lot of vets, old and young, that don't have any Family, and they are our nation's treasures, so we need to spend time with them and appreciate them, because one day we are going to be them," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jean P. Thomas, NCO Academy commandant.
"I think it was an eye opener for some of the younger Soldiers, because at one time these vets were at the top of their careers, and now they see us and we are a reminder of them in their prime, and now they are stricken with illness or injuries," he added.
The Soldiers choose the Tuskegee facilities, according to Smith, because there is a great need there for veteran care and assistance.
"By going there, we can really help and really make a difference for these people," he said. "We know they have a large number of veterans up there that need support, and we can give that."
Payton said that the demeanor of the veterans changed for the better after speaking with the volunteers and that many were smiling when they left, adding that she will never forget the stories she heard that day.
"There was one gentleman that told me about his time in Vietnam, and he kept telling me he didn't want us to go through the bloodshed that he had to. Another gentleman was around 45 and he had a stroke. He said to me, 'I survived Iraq. I survived war, and I came home and had a stroke,'" she said.
Payton sensed that the veterans felt more comfortable with them because the Soldiers could understand their struggles "because even now they are still fighting."
"They all did those missions so the Army today would be a better fighting force and have a better future. It makes me cherish every day that I have with my Family and to not take a single day for granted," she said.
Thomas said that seeing the veterans made him think where he would be in 10 or 20 years, especially after one veteran recognized a volunteer as a Soldier that served with him.
But German Army Sgt. Maj. Mohamed Bouhloui, German liaison office, said that in the past years where he has visited the home he was always impressed with the way America treats its veterans.
"In Germany, we don't have veterans, so, for me, I always like to go and see what they do and how they live," he said. "To hear their stories is so impressive, you have a piece of history there. It's not a book, it is a man or a woman, a Soldier who has seen it and felt it and can tell you not only how it was, but how they felt.
"Two or three generations of Soldiers talking to each other is great to see and we don't have that in Germany. The United States really takes care of its veterans and this treatment is not typical around the world, it is special and so great to see," he continued. "I am happy I have been able to take part. The trips always go so great, they are happy to see us and that someone is interested in what they have to say. I hope we have made a difference."