Veterans discuss military transitions during panel at Cecil College
— After his first tour of duty in Vietnam ended, Jim Buckland returned home for a few days and found himself at a college party with some friends from high school.
After just an hour at the party, Buckland felt like he had to leave or he would start “smashing people.”
“Here, I was 21 going on 50 and my former peers in high school were 21 going on 15,” he recalled.
Buckland left the party and went to an all- night diner where he had eggs and bacon and beer. After three hours at the diner, Buckland made his decision: he was going back to Vietnam because that’s where his friends were.
The difficulty of transitions was one theme that came up again and again during a panel discussion held at Cecil College on Veterans Day. Organized by the college and the Elkton Vet Center, the event featured a diverse panel of five veterans from three military branches, all with vastly different experiences.
But for all five, the transition from civilian to soldier and from soldier back to civilian presented a wide range of challenges.
“When we came home, we were patted on the back by the military,” said Buckland, who served two tours in Vietnam with the U. S. Air Force. “They said ‘ Thank you kid, go home now and enjoy the business of the rest of your life.’ The trick is for a veteran, how do you do that?”
For Tom Pinder, building a life after getting out of the U. S. Marine Corps, meant doing all the typical American things. He got a job, got married and had kids.
“But all that disappeared about eight or nine years later because of the memory,” Pinder said. “It’s called PTSD.”
Pinder, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, initially resisted getting help for his post- traumatic stress disorder. But while at Cecil College one day, his first wife met a representative from the newly- opened Elkton Vet Center. She got some information and brought it home to Pinder and then made him an appointment.
During his first appointment, Pinder refused to talk to the psychologist, but he returned for a second appointment and then another and another.
“Everything started to come together and I started to put my life together. That life turned into me being team leader of the Elkton Vet Center after I completed three college degrees,” he said. “I went on to become a therapist there in the office I had gotten the therapy in.”
Lisha Hunter, who served in the U. S. Army for 26 years before retiring in 2006, also faced challenges, both during her time in the army and when adjusting to civilian life.
“A lot of people that look at me would never assume that I am a veteran. They wonder why I’m here. Maybe I’m supporting my husband or my child or my Dad. But I am a veteran,” said Hunter, who served as a mechanic. “Although I never actually fought in combat, I have fought many battles being a woman in a male arena.”
Hunter also said it’s often difficult for her to adjust to the civilian world where people don’t live by the same set of values and morals the military holds and that she continues to hold even after leaving the army.
Some people have told her that she walks around “acting like she’s done something important” in her life.
“And I have to say ‘ Yes, yes I did.’ I was and always will be a soldier,” she said. “I have served this country even when my country doesn’t understand me or hasn’t served me.”
For Yvette James, who served in the U. S. Army for 23 years, entering the military proved to be a tough transition. She joined the army shortly after her brother was murdered in 1993 because she wanted to get out of her hometown of Stockton, Calif.
While James was initially excited to join the army and leave home, once she started basic training, she began to wonder what she had gotten herself into. Soon after she arrived, a drill sergeant started screaming at her and telling her to do push- ups.
“And I’m like I’m not getting down doing push- ups. I didn’t sign up for this. They told me I’m going to be typing and helping people,” James recalled with a laugh.
But after a long talk, James came to respect the drill sergeants and they began to respect her. She would go on to hold many different positions during her more than two- decade career in the military, including eventually becoming a drill sergeant, which was one of her favorite jobs.
Del Sellers, who served in the U. S. Army from 1995 to 2002, also wasn’t quite sure what he had gotten himself into after deciding to join the military in order to go to college. But though he said he didn’t initially sign up for purely patriotic reasons, the military has become a part of him.
He currently works for the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs and has found that the bond between veterans, regardless of their individual backgrounds and experiences, is incredibly strong, especially because civilians don’t fully understand what it means to be in the military, he said.
“When you see a vet, just give them a thanks,” he said. “A lot of times when we do come back home, me personally, I feel as though you see the glitz and the glamour but you don’t see the dirt, you don’t see the pain and you don’t see the hurt that we’re going through and we’re still going through.”