September 11th, 2006 06:52 EST
America Supports You: Assistance Program Brings Message to Freedom Walk By Sgt. Sara Wood
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2006 – Amid the thousands of walkers at the Pentagon yesterday commemorating the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and the nation’s past and present veterans, was a group that looks to help those veterans in a very tangible way.
The American Legion’s “Heroes to Hometown” program, which was represented at the end of yesterday’s America Supports You Freedom Walk, is a group that works to provide a seamless transfer for severely injured veterans from the hospital to their hometowns.
“We wanted to be a part of this, of course,” David L. Marsh, assistant director of the Heroes to Hometown program, said as he prepared for the walkers to arrive in the Pentagon parking lot. “These are the people we care about; this is the Legion, and we want to work with anybody that’s involved in the current efforts” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Last month, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Defense Department and the American Legion, making DoD an official sponsor of the Heroes to Hometown program. This partnership is important, Marsh said, because it gives the American Legion access to the servicemembers who need assistance.
The Heroes to Hometown program mobilizes behind severely injured veterans as they prepare to transition back into civilian life, working with their communities to create a support network covering everything from employment and education assistance to physical rehabilitation. The American Legion post in the servicemember’s hometown works with community contacts to create this network, Marsh said.
“That’s why the Legion got involved, because we’re pretty much everywhere; we have a post in most hometowns,” he said. “And if we don’t have a post in that member’s hometown, we’ll get them some help from the nearest post.”
When injured troops leave the military environment for the first time, their transition is difficult because they are left without the camaraderie they had with their fellow servicemembers, Marsh said. Heroes to Hometown tries to fill that gap by assigning injured troops a sponsor and creating a sense of community in their hometowns, he said.
“This gets them back into that group mentality again and helps them get back into society again as a functioning member,” he said. “It’s set up for them to transition to get back into society, because we really don’t want to have another generation of disillusioned veterans when they come back.”
Heroes to Hometown has been running for only two months now, but already has seen seven success stories of injured soldiers and sailors transitioning into civilian life, Marsh said.
Having a presence at events like the America Supports You Freedom Walk helps the American Legion reach veterans who may not know about the organization or the services it offers, Marsh said.
“It’s a good way to keep us relevant, because we are an aging organization, and we want to make sure that the servicemembers of today can see it’s a great organization and will want to be a part of it,” he said.
Marsh has seen firsthand the impact the American Legion can have on a veteran’s life. As a wounded Navy veteran from the first Gulf War, Marsh said he came home to strong support from the American Legion. After working in government jobs for several years, he heard about the Heroes to Hometown program and knew it was something he wanted to be involved with, he said.
“I think that shows the impact the Legion can have on somebody,” he said. “After all those years, when this job was open, I saw what they were doing and just wanted to volunteer to help.”