Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
Soldiers from Fort Leavenworth spent time visiting veterans Feb. 16 at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus in Leavenworth as part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients week.
In his opening remarks, Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service Representative Charles Ramey said the national salute has been an important annual cultural event for more than 40 years.
“In addition to the hard-working VAVS staff, the salute brings out voluntary support from Hollywood celebrities, famous sports figures, Scout troops, social and veterans organizations, and people of all ages, from all walks of life,” Ramey said. “It’s great to have the soldiers here. And all of those in the community who donate their time, money, services, transportation or materials toward honoring hospitalized veterans are appreciated, too.”
Col. Andrew Shoffner, Fort Leavenworth Garrison commander, said the ceremony was an opportunity to do two significant things — honor those who have served and educate younger soldiers through the interaction of generations. In his remarks, Shoffner highlighted the difference between what is “urgent” and what is “important.” He said this volunteer opportunity is important and emphasizes that a veteran is a soldier for life.
“The installation recognizes this salute every year. We are glad to come here again to celebrate our veterans today,” Shoffner said. “I’m particularly excited to see so many of our younger soldiers here interacting with our soldiers from different generations of service because it gives them context of where they serve in the continuum and emphasizes the fact that we will never forget our honored veterans.”
Recreation Therapist Melissa Bethune escorted visiting soldiers to the Community Living Center where they were able to interact with 15 hospitalized veterans. Bethune said that the Domiciliary houses nearly 100 veterans. She also helped coordinate with the Daughters of the American Revolution and Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, who provided refreshments.
“It’s a team effort between our office and the service organizations,” Bethune said. “We give the soldiers a tour and let them interact with our veterans.”
Spc. Jose Martinez, 256th Military Police Company, 40th MP Battalion (Detention),said he enjoyed hearing the veterans speak about their experiences.
“We would not have what we do now without the sacrifice and service of veterans,” Martinez said. “My grandfather is a veteran who served on active duty and talked about his time in the service with so much pride that it motivated me to join. I plan to make the Army a career.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Cereghino, 15th Military Police Brigade, was among a group of soldiers in a private room visiting with Annetta Killian and her brother Don Ohmart, who is a patient in the hospital. Ohmart served 10 years in the Marine Corps and is a Vietnam veteran.
Page 2 of 2 - “It makes me really proud that all of these soldiers are here visiting hospitalized veterans because many of them can’t get out,” Killian said. “Don is no longer able to speak, but I know that I can say thank you on his behalf.”
Although he was not able to reply verbally, Ohmart was responsive to the visiting soldiers, acknowledging each in turn who communicated with him and thanked him for his service. Cereghino thought this was significant.
“As soldiers, it is important to be able to interact with people who have directly contributed to making this country as great as it is,” Cereghino said. “If we don’t connect with vets, we lose opportunities to learn and grow.”
Lt. Col. Clyde McNally, an instructor at the Command and General Staff School’s Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, said that he makes a point to participate in activities that support veterans, including serving on honor color guards and visiting retirees. He said there are many things people can do to support soldiers. While stationed in Washington, D.C., he made a point to attend funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, he said.
“I enjoy connecting with our military veterans and supporting initiatives like this,” McNally said. “It’s an important natural cycle that we all are part of as service members and soldiers. We all will be here one day, and it will be soldiers of the next generation who visit us.”
Maj. Guy Workman, S3 for the 15th MP Brigade, said soldiers and veterans are part of the same legacy.
“It’s not just an obligation to come here to visit veterans,” Workman said. “It’s an honor and shows that we are all part of the same great unbroken chain of soldiers who continue serving our nation even as veterans.”
Col. Dawn Hilton, 15th MP Brigade commander and U.S. Disciplinary Barracks commandant, said there is a sense that veterans are generally underappreciated by society. Hilton spent most of her time during the visit in one-on-one conversations with veterans and said she gained valuable insight from hearing from veterans what it was like during their era.
“I just talked with a gentleman who is a veteran of the Korean War. It was especially interesting because I just came from Korea,” Hilton said. “I was able to put many things that I saw there into fuller context based upon that interaction. After thanking him for sharing his wartime experiences, I told him that I wished he could see the great country he helped build.”