Giving A New Meaning To 'Support Our Troops'

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With the war in Iraq entering its fifth year, we will continue to see combat veterans returning home.






Veterans:We want to hear your stories.What was your experience upon returning home?What helped you re-assimilate?Do you have any advice for the community?Send your thoughts to Autumn Phillips at editor@payson.com or bring them by the Payson Roundup office, 708 N. Beeline Highway.

A fact of war is that many of these young men and women will come back bearing the emotional and physical scars of combat, and they deserve our continuing support -- something more than a smile at the airport or a grateful feature in the local newspaper.

They will be looking for acceptance, but they will also be looking for tangible things like jobs, educational opportunities and veterans' benefits.

As these veterans return, it is time for us to learn what "Support Our Troops" really means. It means more than putting a yellow ribbon on the back of your car. It means reaching out in a literal way to help our veterans assimilate into the community by providing the networking necessary to meet their immediate needs.

As they re-integrate, it is our responsibility to help them in whatever way we can.

Educational and professional opportunities are important ways to make their homecoming more than a fleeting moment of appreciation.

In the past, we have seen too many times that when our service members couldn't find opportunity and support with re-integration, they could find alcohol and drugs.

The returning veteran is a patriot who sacrificed on many levels to serve our country. He or she joined the military out of a sense of duty.

While serving abroad, they received packages from home, pats on the back and attention from the media. But when they return home, all that changes. It's too easy to forget the sacrifices they made.

As the war in Iraq enters its fifth year, it's time for a change in the way we see our role in supporting the troops. Support cannot end as soon as a veteran returns home.

Some of the care we pour into those packages we send abroad needs to be refocused to those soldiers here at home.

There are already local efforts under way.

Betty Merritt, owner of the Merritt Center in Payson, hosts a "Welcome Home Program" for returning combat veterans. During the retreat, returning veterans work with mentors who are veterans themselves. For more information about this program, call 474-4268.

There is also an event in the works for Payson. The Arizona Veterans' Service Advisory Commission will hold a meeting at the American Legion Post, 709 E. Highway 260 on April 14 at 10 a.m. The event is a chance for the public to discuss veteran-related issues.

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