Mark Hoffman is an army veteran. On Sunday afternoon, he came to Burlington’s Contois Auditorium to share a few words. He didn’t speak for very long, but he did speak very deliberately. He talked about how many military comrades he’s lost. “Not all of them died in combat. They all died in service to their country,” he said. And then he paused for a long moment. “I just want to say to my brothers that I’ve lost: Rest in peace, brothers. Thank you for your service. And a job very well done.”
Vermonters had a rare opportunity on Sunday afternoon: in Rutland and Burlington, veterans came together to share their stories, and community members were invited to attend and to listen.
Inspired by the writer Sebastian Junger, and hosted by CCV in collaboration with event coordinator Kristen Eaton, the town hall follows a model begun in other communities throughout the country, and is organized to provide space for veterans to share their experiences with each other and with the general public. The first Veterans Town Hall took place in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 2015, and the first Vermont event was held last fall in Burlington.
Marty McMahon is a resource advisor for veteran and military students at CCV who helped put on the Burlington event. He believes the town hall is an important forum for those who served as well as for those who didn’t. “We often hear about veterans, but we very rarely get to hear from them, to hear their own voices talking about their experience. We can’t have a real dialogue with veterans until we take the time to listen with no judgment.”
Learn more about some of the resources available to Vermont veterans and their families
Vermont is home to more than 42,000 veterans. On Sunday, nearly thirty of them spoke at the joint gatherings. Inside Burlington’s City Hall, the voices were diverse. They were men and women, young and old. They served in the marines, the army, and the navy. Some served in Vietnam, others in Afghanistan or Iraq. Some were nurses, some were military police. Some were nervous to stand up and speak. Many shared poems. Many said the words, “I’ll never forget that,” or “I’ll always remember him/her.” And the town hall did even more than bring voices together; there were also calls to action.
Robert Monette was marking an important anniversary over the weekend. “Thirty years ago yesterday, November 3rd, 1988, I left home for basic training as a pilot first class. Yesterday, November 3rd, 2018, I came home from war for the last time as a lieutenant colonel in the Special Forces.”
Monette was coming home from a tour with Operation Inherent Resolve. But on Sunday, he wanted to focus on his future. As a veteran, he said he plans to become engaged in his community. “We’re so stratified, and we’re so opposite, and we’re so torn in society…What are we gonna do to make it better? Compromise is something we can do.” Monette emphasized the role of civics. “Part of civics is civility, learning to listen to people who may have a different viewpoint than you but respecting that viewpoint and not trying to shut them down…I hope with my fellow veterans that’s what we all do: stand up for what’s right, stand up for everybody’s rights.” He noted that in the military, you’re part of a team that includes people of different races, genders, religions, and backgrounds. But you don’t talk about politics, he says; you talk about the mission. “What is our mission now? Our mission, as I see it, is try to have everybody come together.”
For veteran Walt Ward, seeking help after his 20 years in the military wasn’t easy. He said he’d always thought of himself as being “bulletproof,” someone who wouldn’t need to tap into support services when his military career was over. Ward began his service in the Marine Corps and later trained and served as a sniper in Afghanistan. After returning home, he realized he was suffering from PTSD. “I ended up in need of some VA services…all of a sudden you find yourself [go] from being bulletproof to toes on the edge of the cliff.” But he says the VA pulled him back. “It turns out they saved my life.”
Some spoke about the work they’re doing with local organizations to provide support for Vermont’s veteran community. Representatives from groups such as UVM’s student veteran services, Vermont Veterans Outreach, and WARRIORS SOAR encouraged veterans and their families to reach out.
CCV is proud to serve more than 400 veteran and military-connected students each semester at its twelve locations across the state and its center for online learning. Veterans service coordinator Kyle Aines is part of the College’s Veterans Services team, and he hosted Sunday’s Rutland event. He’s also an army veteran who served two tours in Iraq. “Support of our military does not start with a ‘support the troops’ bumper sticker and culminate with grilled chicken on Memorial Day weekend,” he said in a press release. “As military members struggle to reintegrate back into society, it is imperative that society have a clear understanding what they are transitioning from. The Veteran’s Town Hall is that bridge and connection.”
Video by Tom Shahan