The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

January 17, 2013

Wounded Warrior Banquet

HUNTSVILLE — Helping returning veterans and wounded warriors overcome their sense of isolation is the most important thing a community can do for them, said retired U.S. Army Col. David Sutherland, the keynote speaker at Thursday’s annual Wounded Warrior Banquet.

About 900 people packed the main building at the Walker County Fairgrounds, rented this year by Walker County justices, judges and the sheriff for the event, to raise money for the Wounded Warrior support group and associated charities.

Sutherland, who served in Iraq and is now executive director of the Center for Military and Veteran Community Services, is an advocate for returning veterans and several organizations devoted to their needs.

He described his own experience in returning from combat in Iraq to find the quiet normalcy of Killeen, Texas, unnerving — to the confusion of his wife and sons. One of his sons, he said, was a young child on Sept. 11, 2001, and couldn’t remember a time when his father was not “going to war, at war or coming home from war.”

The families of returning troops make many sacrifices, he said. “You can’t talk about us without talking about our families....It’s them we come home to.”

But once removed from the fierce loyalty and camaraderie of fellow troops, veterans endure a transitional period of isolation and mental stress.

“The bonds that exist on the battlefield are like nothing you can imagine,” Sutherland said. “When they come home (those bonds) are ripped apart.”

Families of returning veterans must deal with wounds they sometimes can see and those they cannot, and availability of mental health care is a major issue, Sutherland said.

The lack of mental health care for veterans has created a crisis, according to statistics Sutherland presented, which showed that 18 veterans commit suicide every day and that 50 percent of those returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan report depression and other mental health issues.

But the community can and does help by reaching out to help veterans reconnect.

“The number one remedy is feeling like you fit in, like you’re connected again,” he said.

Veterans are more susceptible to experiencing problems re-adjusting to life stateside if they’ve suffered life-changing injuries or have trouble finding post-military employment. But, Sutherland said, if they’re embraced by their families and communities and given a chance to prove themselves, they use the “warrior ethos” they developed in combat to excel in civilian life.

“This generation of veterans is wired to serve,” he said.

In a series of moving anecdotes, Sutherland — who asked that those present not videotape or record his speech because of its deeply personal nature — used the intense, moving and sometimes graphic stories of actual soldiers to illustrate elements of the Soldier’s Creed:

“I will always place the mission first.”

“I will never accept defeat.”

“I will never quit.”

The creed’s last line — “I will never leave a fallen comrade” — describes the homecoming embrace of veterans’ friends, family and community.

Addressing those present, Sutherland said of the creed’s last line, “That’s you. And we trust you and when we say that, that’s saying a lot....We fought for our families, our neighbors, our communities and my buddy on my right and on my left.”

And, Sutherland said in the emotional conclusion of his speech, which elicited a standing ovation, “I would fight for you again, and I would die for you.”

Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and retired Army Col. Bruce Crandall, who spoke before Sutherland, opened the evening with a call for communities to reach out to wounded warriors with their presence.

“You don’t have to just give of your money,” he said. “Give of your time.”

He said he brings his small dog, Huey, who joined Crandall on stage, to visit wounded veterans “and Huey makes them smile.”

“I take a dog because I know I’m not that interesting of a character. Those soldiers don’t want to look at a colonel.

Crandall, 79, received the Medal of Honor in 2010 for his actions during the Battle of Ia Drang, Vietnam, in 1965. During that battle, he flew 22 missions in unarmed helicopters to bring ammunition to the troops and evacuate the wounded.

He urged Walker County residents to help bring to local schools what he called the legacy of former medal of honor winners, the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation Character Development Program. Now active in 44 states, this free school curriculum is designed to teach kids how to serve their communities.

For more information about the Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development Program, visit cmohedu.org.

In addition to an as yet undetermined amount of funds raised Thursday night for the Warrior and Family Support Center, Able’s Sporting of Huntsville and its customers raised a combined $40,000 for wounded warriors and associated charities, which was donated at Thursday’s banquet.

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