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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Loyalty & support

Saturday, June 01, 2013 - Updated: 4:08 AM

Imagine you are a 19-year-old Marine. You are riding in a Humvee with four other Marines -- your friends -- when an improvised explosive device (IED) explodes.

Two of your friends die instantly, but you are "lucky." Though bloodied and bruised, you survive to fight another day.

You will fight many more days, too. With our military stretched thin at hot spots across the world, our servicemen and women are serving more deployments than ever -- some, as many as seven deployments during a 12-year span -- and enduring more stress than ever before.

The nature of war fighting has changed, after all. Unlike in traditional ground wars, today's fighting men and women are battling insurgents. Attack can come at any time, from anywhere: IEDs, snipers, rocket-propelled grenades, firefights, ambushes, suicide bombs.

If you're "lucky," you will survive more close scrapes. Sure, you will carry scars of war, but you will make it home.

If you're unlucky, you will be killed, severely wounded or maimed. More than 6,500 soldiers have died during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars -- more than 50,000 have been wounded.

Many of the wounded have suffered damage so severe, they are medically discharged and sent home.

Imagine the transformation. One moment, you are strong and healthy. The next moment, a blast goes off and you are without an arm or a leg, or shrapnel is lodged in your brain.

Back home, you are withdrawn. You don't want to talk about what you experienced with anyone -- family, friends or Department of Veterans Affairs doctors -- because they can never understand.

You bottle up all the memories inside you -- you try to bury the pain -- but you probably will not succeed.

You are likely to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) -- flashbacks, nightmares and disruptive memories that you cannot control -- or, worse, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which can cause a host of cognitive and emotional problems.

You likely find it hard to transition to civilian life. You may be tempted to turn to alcohol, drugs or worse -- the suicide rate among active and retired veterans is 22 a day.

There is a reason why nearly half of our 2.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unemployed -- and more than 12,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets are homeless.

But you are a veteran. You don't want pity. You were a trained warrior. You volunteered to serve. All you want is to talk with other veterans who experienced what you experienced -- to reach out to a network of people who can provide you with the skills and support you will need to successfully transition back to civilian live.

Well, thanks to retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Tom Jones, such support is available.

Six years ago, as part of the Semper Fi Fund, which provides financial support to wounded, injured and critically ill members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, Jones established the Semper Fi Odyssey Transition Program (outdoorodyssey.org/leadership-programming/veteran-programming/semper-fi-odyssey/).

The Semper Fi Odyssey Transition Program provides returning wounded Marines with six intense days of training and curriculum to prepare them for life after military service and strengthen their mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and social well-being.

The program is conducted by team leaders, a good many of them who had been wounded, injured or critically ill warriors themselves who've successfully transitioned to civilian life.

By the end of the week, participants develop actionable road maps and plan for life to guide their transitions, as well as networks of mentors and friends who will provide ongoing support -- support that is essential to helping those who have served their country embrace the skills they will need to serve their families, communities and careers.

We must take time to pay homage to the men and women who have served, particularly the wounded, injured and critically ill veterans who need a little added support.

Donate to the Semper Fi Fund (semperfifund.org) or contact the organization to learn how you can volunteer.

Better yet, hire one of these veterans to work for your company. They have received world-class training, and developed impressive workplace skills, during their service.

It would be one small way we can demonstrate our loyalty and support to so many young and women who have paid a high price to secure our freedoms.

As the Marines like to say: Semper fidelis.

TOM PURCELL is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated.

     

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