Vet­er­ans dis­cuss mil­i­tary tran­si­tions dur­ing panel at Cecil Col­lege

Cecil Whig - - 5 - By JES­SICA IANNETTA

— 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.”

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