As a summer resident for the last 10 years, I've grown to love and respect the people of the Tri-Lakes area for, among other things, their values and resiliency. They are not afraid to speak their minds, engage in meaningful discussions and then support the ultimate outcomes.
As a veteran, I've become very interested in watching one such idea take form and evolve here over the last few years. That idea is to create a partnership between the community and the organization which is now known as Homeward Bound Adirondacks. Its purpose is to guide our veterans back to a home they deserve. I think that's an outcome we all can support.
Not being a full-time resident, I readily admit that I don't know a great deal about the local politics or the relationships that have been created, or destroyed, between various factions or individuals over the years. Perhaps that puts me at a disadvantage when forming opinions or in making observations on local issues such as this. On the other hand, it may give me the advantage of viewing things with an open mind not tainted by history. That will have to be your call.
The primary observation I want to make is that all of the pieces of the puzzle exist that, when put together, will make a "significant difference" for our veterans, current military personnel, their families and our local communities. At this point, however, I see it falling short of its potential. In my opinion, these existing pieces have not been put together.
The first piece of the puzzle is our communities. To me, these are communities that appear to care. I've seen the parades, heard the speakers, seen the monuments and the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, and have even visited some of the cemeteries. I have met active military personnel and veterans and seen the turnouts to benefit local wounded soldiers. There are local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts and a local veterans clinic. I don't think you see this unless communities care. This community piece definitely exists but has yet to become fully engaged.
Secondly, Homeward Bound Adirondacks is up and running. Do you know about it? They have an organization in place with a strong board of directors and have already created and implemented several successful programs for veterans and their families in the local area. They are not short on ideas, but it, like other startup charities or businesses, has encountered speed bumps in its development and growth. If only it were perfect like you and me! Its staff is made up of qualified and capable people, but it is small and stretched to the limit. This makes it difficult to adequately promote their efforts, raise necessary funds and grow. If you don't know about this organization, you owe it to yourself and your fellow vets to, as we say, "bone up on it."
The final piece is you and me, the veterans and those who are still serving in these local communities. Our experiences are most likely all different. Some of us have had the experience of transitioning from combat back to garrison and/or civilian life, and some of us are still on that journey. Some of us prepared ourselves to answer the bell but, due to time and circumstances, were not called to combat and have since transitioned home. Some of us are currently serving and actively involved in defending our country and our way of life. Regardless, we all have that military experience in common. As I heard one vet recently say, "When I walk into a room of people, I can spot another vet, and I know I'll be comfortable being with them." But even with that common bond, we, as a community, do not appear to be fully engaged.
So here's the issue. The pieces are here, but the puzzle is far from complete. In my humble, summer-resident opinion, the local veteran community is the key and needs to step up and make it happen. I know you are out there, but I don't know who you are. One or two together won't make it happen. We need a community of veterans. I know you are busy, but just take the first step and come and listen and, if motivated, share your thoughts.
In my opinion, Homeward Bound Adirondacks needs our experience, our ideas, our opinions and our support. They need us to spread the word to others. While I'd encourage anyone who wants help, or thinks they might, to come out, what we need is the participation of all veterans. Tall or short, old or young, rich or poor, all are needed to make this work. While no one can predict what positive outcomes will be created by this community, my gut tells me this whole idea of bringing our brothers and sisters all the way home will struggle without us, and the puzzle will not be finished. Please be there, and bring a veteran friend. We owe it to our communities, to fellow veterans and to ourselves. In exchange, we'll do our best to provide everyone a seat facing the entrance.
Bob Hammond is a U.S. Army veteran who spends summers in Saranac Lake.