News: Neillsville - Operation Persian Gulf Welcome Home (2016)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Kaufman, Olson, Hensiak, Rodman, Marschman, Henline, Dunbar, McNeely, Hiett, Nichols, Moore, Scott, Martino, Mabie, Barth

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 7/27/2016

Operation Persian Gulf Welcome Home (Rousing Success - 18-25 Jul 2016)

Operation Persian Gulf Welcome Home Event is Rousing Success

By Todd Schmidt

By all the measures, the weeklong Persian Gulf Welcome Home activities at The Highground were a rousing success.

The Welcome Home events included an opening program July 19 and ceremonies throughout the week honoring those who served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The new Persian Gulf Tribute (PGT) was dedicated Saturday, and a family day was enjoyed Sunday.

The flurry of activity concluded with a candlelight memorial and a closing ceremony Monday evening.

The Wall of Remembrance was escorted to The Highground July 18 and was on display throughout the week. A number of dedicated volunteers kept the unit on the ground during a severe storm Thursday.

A number of the movers and shakers involved in the development of the PGT joined facilitators of the Welcome Home experience in a media event July 19.

Celeste Kaufman of Colby is co-chairperson of the PGT Design Committee. Her son, Charles, was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Army National Guard and was killed in action June 26, 2005, as a result of an IED explosion while he was driving a Humvee on a mission in Baghdad.

“It took me a long time, probably about eight years, to accept the situation,” Celeste said. “I used to cry watching cartoons on TV. A priest helped me get through this, plus all the wonderful support from people at The Highground.”

Celeste’s involvement with the PGT began in 2008. She started working on the fundraising end of the project and began promoting it while helping with chili events, ceremonies for placing a Legacy and Mediation stones and the “Half is Good Enough” marathons.

“Nancy Olson, whose husband, Todd, was also killed in action in Iraq, brought up many good ideas,” Celeste said. “Todd Olson and Brandon Hensiak served in the same unit with Charles.”

Celeste said it was difficult to keep members on the PGT Committee. Some veterans were in the midst of struggles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the concept was too difficult for them, Celeste said. She credited many sponsors, donors, and staff of The Highground for getting the project to completion.

“Our group was not big enough to get this done without their help,” Celeste said. “This whole process actually helped my healing. I got involved talking with veterans and saw how thankful they are. This whole Welcome Home event is overwhelming. Many of us are excited to have this event as a form of closure.”

Celeste was a keynote speaker at the PGT dedication ceremony. She shared the poem “Don’t Quit” written by an anonymous author. Charles had given the poem to her a few years before he was killed.

“Charles could have gotten out on a medical discharge, but he decided to go back to Iraq and fight with his unit,” she said. “He wasn’t a quitter, and neither am I.”

Celeste said the PGT was meant to honor all branches of America’s military marching forward in the Global War on Terrorism. She described the four bronze statues, which were very carefully planned and placed at strategic locations in the PGT.

Celeste said the thinker is place at the foot of the PGT Bootprint. She said he could be contemplating his sacrifice, the loss of a loved one, the killing of friends or comrades or the cost to America. He could be just starting his career in the military or he could be reflecting on everything else in the Bootprint. He could also be struggling with PTSD.

“This place is a safe haven for all to come to reflect and heal,” she said. “I encourage people not to quit and to come to The Highground. It is an honor to be here in such a respectful and honorable endeavor.”

Kirk Rodman, volunteer general manager of The Highground, complimented the board of directors for staying with their commitment and vision for the past 31 years. he thanked the over 300 volunteers for assisting with various functions.

Rodman said Celeste Kaufman had won a national writing contest with her entry “A Christmas to Remember.” The prize money was $5,000.

When the organizers heard her story, they doubled the prize amount, and with her blessing, a $10,000 check was sent directly to The Highground,” Rodman said.

Rodman took a moment to remind everyone of the mission of healing. He said 1,200 books on PTSD were going to be handed out during Welcome Home week, in addition to 900 already distributed. He said The Highground hoped to reverse the trend of 22 suicides per day committed by veterans and other military personnel.

Emotional Talking Circles were held many times during the week. The names of service members killed in the various Persian Gulf conflicts were read at each program.

Kathy Marschman, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, reviewed a few things the department is doing to assist veterans. She said a new outreach program funded by a federal grant is available to veterans in 49 rural counties for housing expenses and alcohol and chemical dependency treatment.

Marschman said the Wisconsin Veterans Museum located on the Capitol Square in Madison is open to remember and pay tribute to all military personnel who have served since the Civil War. She said a traveling exhibit is also available.

Bobby Henline, an Iraqi War veteran, wounded warrior, comedian and motivational presenter, discussed PTSD from a very personal standpoint. Henline was severely injured in an IED blast, which killed four of his fellow soldiers and left him with burns over 40 percent of his body and fractured bones in his face.

“It is easier to face your demons than to keep them hidden,” Henline said. “I encourage you to watch your buddies and their families.”

Major General Donald Dunbar thanked everyone for their vision, effort and support in making the PGT a reality. He put the 1990 Persian Gulf Conflict in context with the dissolving of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the painful wounds of Vietnam War.

“Those who served in Desert Storm came home to ticker tape parades,” Dunbar said. “Vietnam Vets, who were treated so poorly upon their return, were invited to join in the accolades.”

Dunbar said the 1990s were “a good decade” with balanced budgets. He said today, terrorism is coming like a plague.

“ISL is inspiring disaffected young men and women all over the world,” Dunbar said. “Many of our service personnel have gone overseas on multiple deployments. Some are still there today.

“Military personnel face a difficult transition when they come home. They are in combat one day and are in the United States the next day.”

Dunbar said all service personnel took a vow to serve their country.

“This Bootprint is unique,” Dunbar said. “It symbolizes how this generation stands with you. Nothing is going to harm our country tonight. We are on point.”

Rolling Thunder Chapter 3 presented an emotional Missing Man Table ceremony it presents at various functions calling attention to those missing in action. Rio Hiett of Madison Rising presented a moving rendition of “The Stars Spangled Banner.”

At the opening ceremony July 19, Juli McNeeley of Spencer described how she worked to secure a $25,000 grant from the Million Dollar Roundtable (MDRT) Foundation to support Welcome home activities.

“We wrote the grant around the vision and dreams of the Welcome Home week and the PGT dedication,” McNeeley said. Rodman said without the grant funding, the Welcome Home would have been a much smaller event.

“I hope the Welcome Home can be continued as an annual event,” Mc Neeley said.

JR Nichols of Southern California designed The Wall of Remembrance for the 10-year observance of the 9/11 attacks. Since its inception, almost 800 names have been added. Nichols said veterans need support.

“They don’t have enough help,” Nichols said. “Many of these veterans carry internal wounds. It used to be called shell shock, and it is now called PTSD.

“The crisis line is limited and the VA is not hiring enough staff.”

Vietnam veteran Pat Moor of Augusta described his relationship with a fellow veteran named Sam Scott, who lived between Fairchild and Osseo.

“Sam was a near and dear friend of mine,” Moore said. “He was kind of shy and standoffish, but he worked at a gas station. He had a sign in his truck window that said, ‘Vietnam Veteran….Proud of It.’

“Sam had mental problems and was a recovering alcoholic. He would say there was something wrong inside his head he couldn’t fix. He had hallucinations of head rolling down the road.

“Every once in a while he would fall back into drinking. He was seeing a psychiatrist at the VA. He felt a staff member was being rude to him at one visit about 10 years ago. He went out to his truck and blew his head off with a 12-gauge shotgun.”

Rodman said the PGT was 99-percent finished. He said hundreds of service members had signed the bottom of honor stones already placed.

Sculptor Mike Martino was introduced. He said he was not a veteran, but he did his best in working with the PGT Committee on the design of the statues.

“I tried to bring a human element to the design,” Martino said. “I certainly appreciate The Highground as a place of education and healing.”

Rodman noted for every American service person killed in action in the Persian Gulf Conflicts (over 6,000) another 20 came home with life-threatening injuries.

“That means there are 120,000 veterans who are missing an arm, a leg or a piece of their mind” Rodman said.

“This place means healing and peace,” McNeeley added. “You can see how it affects people.

“This is a nice event for the Persian Gulf Vets. Everyone can come together in a positive way. It is amazing to see the Persian Gulf Bootprint. Their dreams and vision are now getting done.”

Neillsville Mayor Steve Mabie said he was happy to be a part of the Welcome Home opening ceremony. Mabie earned three stars serving in the U. S. Navy during the Vietnam War and later served in the Naval Reserve.

“I am proud of my time there,” Mabie said. “I enlisted in October 1966 because it was the thing to do. I got up and answered the call.”

Mabie said those who serve in the military are all brothers and sisters.

“We have a common bond,” Mabie said. “We honor those who have served, who are serving and who are unable to serve. We all knew the stress and fear of not knowing what the next hour might bring.”

Retired Major Brian Barth served in the Naval Reserve for four years and then spent the remainder of his remarkable 23-year career with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. He had multiple positions and received numerous promotions as he rose in the ranks. Barth, a 1993 graduate of Neillsville high School, was deployed twice, to Afghanistan in 2008-2009 and again to Kuwait as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve.

His company’s main job in Afghanistan was clearing rugged roads. He said IEDs were the preferred weapon of the insurgency. His unit went on 240 combat missions and received numerous medals. The unit was the most decorated unit from Wisconsin to have served in an armed conflict since WWII.

“We saved many lives, both of our forces and Afghan residents,” Barth said. “Many times we took on small arms fire and were fired on by rocket-propelled grenades.”

Barth’s voice cracked many times as he was describing an attack that damaged vehicles, killing one soldier and injuring another. Mabie consoled Barth at the podium, with cries of “I got your back” coming from the crowd of veterans.

Barth said his family (wife, Jennifer and their children, Skylar, Jaden and Gavin) was the deciding factor in his retirement from the military.

He said he could understand how soldiers could have a difficult time returning to civilian life.

“At times, you operate at a fast pace,” Barth said. “Your exhilarating environment is filled with guns, equipment, helicopters and vehicles. You have a lot of Power at your fingertips.

“How do you replace that adrenaline rush when you come home? Sometimes you go to bed, and when you wake up in the morning, you feel like you never slept.”

A veteran snaps a photo at The Highground July 19 of Wisconsin service men killed in action. The Remembrance Wall was a significant exhibit during the Persian Gulf Welcome home series of events July 18-25. (Photo courtesy of Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

(Many photos were shown in The Clark County Press, too many to scan and post here.)



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