(Editor's note: The author delivered this as a speech at Saranac Lake's Veterans Day service Monday.)
I think, like a lot of veterans and really all people, I have good days and bad, but this past week presented a unique set of challenges as I spent four days in New York City. I grew up in New Jersey, with regular trips into Manhattan, but it had been a really long time since I had spent any extended period of time there. Day one went OK; by day two I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by things. I found the constant noise seemed to increase my startle reflex. I went for a run around Central Park and was constantly surrounded by people. Although I gained the physical benefit from the exercise, the mental calm my runs usually produced was absent. By day three I found myself unable to participate in an activity in a room filled with people and lots of noise. I simply had to excuse myself and make alternative arrangements. Day four, I called Amtrak and paid the extra money to take an earlier train home. The train ride to Albany and the subsequent drive to Lake Placid provided me with a lot of opportunity for reflection.
Jordanna Mallach delivers this speech Monday at Saranac Lake’s Veterans Day ceremony.
(Photo — Mark Kurtz)
Like a lot of people that live here, I have days where I resent the minor inconveniences caused by rural living. I have read about the healing power of nature and the history of the tuberculosis cure cottages, but I don't think I fully understood the therapeutic nature of where we live until I spent the past few days someplace else. My transition home from Afghanistan has been rough, my marriage has failed, I had to leave a well-paying job to care for my daughter, and I have had some long-term medical issues arise from the constant burning of trash on the base where I was stationed, but I think my transition would have been that much harder had I been someplace else.
Homeward Bound Adirondacks capitalizes on the idea that this is a place of healing. Your mind has a chance to relax from the all the stimulus that exists in a more urban environment, and your body has a chance to breathe good air and experience the calm of a run where you see no one else and do not have to stop for a single traffic light on the way.
As residents of this area, we have the privilege to enjoy this quality of life, but we also have an obligation and responsibility to share it with others. The term "veterans" can be scary to some people. It invokes images of hard-faced 18-year-old boys marching off to war, or elderly gentleman in wheelchairs standing to salute the colors and they go by. The word "veterans" makes you think about war and the negative images that come with it, the wounded coming home and those that never come home at all. It can make you think about people far away on Army bases in places you have never even heard of. Recent studies have shown that the slogan, "We support the troops but not the war," worked well for the first 10 years of the conflict but now is starting to lose momentum. Donations to organizations that work to assist veterans are down, media report less and less about the war, and people don't want to hear about the problems that are facing our returning warriors.
I would encourage you to take a moment to rethink how you look at this issue. When you think of veterans, think of me riding the carousel with my daughter. Her favorite is the otter. Think of the 5,000 veterans that are served by the community-based out-patient clinic right here in Saranac Lake. Think about the soldiers, sailors and airman using their Montgomery GI Bill benefits to make a better life for themselves and for their family by attending college. Think about Homeward Bound Adirondacks, an organization that is committed to serving veterans and their families right here in your own backyard. Help us to provide a healing community that will embrace and take an active interest in the issues concerning and related to our veterans. If you know of a family that has someone who is deployed, don't wait to be asked to help. Drop off food for dinner; head on over and do some laundry or dishes. If you know of a veteran who seems like they are having a rough time, take them out for a cup of coffee or a beer, and listen to the story that they have to tell. Ask questions and make sure they walk away knowing you value the service and the sacrifice that they have made for our nation.
I often wonder, as time moves forward, how history will judge my generation of veterans. How will we compare to those that came before us? Our war is not so black and white as was World War II, and we have not faced the same types of adversity that those who returned from Vietnam did, but I would propose to you that we are a strong and vibrant force trying to make our way in a complicated world, and anything that you can do to support the effort would be welcome and greatly appreciated.
Jordanna Mallach currently works as the program coordinator for Homeward Bound Adirondacks in Saranac Lake. She also serves as a company commander with D CO 186 BSB of the Vermont Army National Guard in Swanton, Vt. In December 2010, she returned from a year-long deployment as a brigade supply and services officer with an additional duty appointment as the Jewish lay leader at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, home to 30,000 civilian and military personnel. During her 10 years of service in the National Guard, first in New York and then Vermont, she has completed one overseas tour, two stateside active-duty tours and responded to three state emergencies. Since returning from Afghanistan, she has worked on veterans issues in a variety of settings. Throughout her career, but especially since her return from Afghanistan, she has struggled both personally and professionally with the constant transition required of National Guard soldiers between the military and the civilian life. She is a resident of Lake Placid, where she lives with her 5-year-old daughter who wants to be an Army person and a hockey player when she grows up.