As I sit in my living room, looking out clean windows and enjoying the amazing afternoon breeze, I am reminded that everything cycles. It seems so long ago we had to remove our screens and store them for the winter (we do that because it helps them last longer). We had no plans to open the windows to let the snowy air inside, and it is sort of a right-of-passage to put the screens away and welcome the winter hibernation. And it is finally summertime. Spring here in Alaska is a fast-moving season that really should be mushed together with summer. It is maybe a week or two, at best. We are now enjoying wonderfully cool breezes under a blazing sun, that by the afternoon is hidden by storm clouds. It is common in May and June to have late-day rain storms. And this week, while I was washing windows and scrubbing screens, I was blissfully unaware that the forecast called for a thunder storm – it was comical that as I am scrubbing windows, I am getting wet from rain as well as the hose. It rained enough that I stopped for the day and my project was extended to a second day. But today I am two days out from putting up those screens and enjoying the clean air swirling through this musty house. It is amazing how, by the time is is possible, we have reached that claustrophobic time where we need to open our windows or we will go crazy. Ahhh….cool breezes and clean air, at last!
The amazing skies remind me that things can change on a dime. One moment life is a certain way, and the next moment it is forever changed. I was exposed to the End22 movement and it changed me profoundly. I had no idea, no inkling that this was going on. My Veteran son shared with me how there are 22 suicides every day in America by Veterans. And when you use the term, “Veteran,” you leave behind all the things that divide us. It cuts across economic lines, racial and gender differences, faith, and many others. These are our soldiers, sailors, and servicemen and women who are taking their own lives. Why? So very many reasons. They come home from a living hell (because all wars on many, many levels are truly hell) and expect a warm welcome, at the very least. They also want to return to their lives prior to their military service. They want to return to their communities where they can earn a decent living and enjoy life with their families and friends. These Veterans are also from all different wars. The homecoming for the Viet Nam Veterans was horrific at best. Many of them are still suffering. World War II Veterans are so few these days. It is wonderful to have the Honor Flights, who are helping them re-connect with fellow Veterans as they are flown to their Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is the very least we can do for them. If not for them, we would all be speaking German! Our more recent Vets are coming home and finding the transition so difficult, they retreat to alcohol and drugs. They see no future, back in “regular” society. And very few people are reaching out. Very few of us even realized it was an issue. I had no idea that because we are doing so little to help them, more than 8,000 Veterans will die by their own hand this year. If we were discussing suicides by women, or gays, or illegal immigrants on a scale of 22 per day, you can bet the media would have been all over it. Yet, it goes unnoticed, and unreported. Last year, we lost over 8,000 Veterans to suicide. And it is wrong. Let than number sink in. More than 8,000 Veterans a year. 8,000. I am dumbfounded and embarrassed. On this very important 75th Anniversary of D-Day, we need to rethink how we can help our Vets.
One of the things I became involved with, and am seriously on the very outer edge of involvement, is a local push for an active museum site for the Alaska Military Heritage Museum. As I sit and work on a minor data base as my way of helping this get moving, I am seeing people from all over, who support this Museum by giving of their time, treasure, and talent. We are trying to obtain buildings, which were abandoned by the National Guard 8 years ago, to use as a site for our Veterans. The site would include visual and oral presentations of various aspects of Alaskan Veterans’ involvement in the wars fought by our country. There are airplanes being donated and aircraft companies are donating the funding to restore these amazing planes from different arenas of war. The Museum is expanding its vision to include honoring our Alaskan Native population and their dedication to our Country’s fight for freedom.There will be a special area dedicated to the Alaskan Natives who helped the war effort and call Alaska their home. I am in awe of what people have done who live in Alaska, their home, whether born here or lucky enough to live here. I am humbled by their dedicated service. I am also blown away by the dedication of the Veterans and their friends and families, who want to see this Museum live. There are 100 acres of unused land and buildings adjacent to Ted Stevens International Airport. The Kulis AF base has had such a major role in the history of our State, and in the history of military service, here in Alaska. It is sitting, empty and unused, for the past 8 years. It is a glorious example of the waste of resources we tax-payers have to endure. A waste that could literally save lives. Our two US Senators and our US Representative are on board. We have Alaskan Senators and Reps totally behind this. When it was presented in Washington, D.C. there was an across-the-board excitement in everyone who heard about it. However, it is being stonewalled by bureaucrats – airport bureaucrats – who see their power base dwindling by the day. The groundswell of support for this program is growing in the hearts of whomever hears of this project. And the incredible piece of this movement is that this facility would provide hands-on training for Veterans in all the trades. All the trades and labor bureaucracy are totally on board and waiting for the signal to move ahead. We are all waiting for this to happen. End22 and what is stands for, is a real thing. And this Museum and skills training program can do so much for our Veterans, and help to save lives. There are plans to get homeless Vets off the street and housed at this facility. There are plans for educating our children about our Veterans, and the cold reality of End22. There are programs which share a common vision and who are dedicated to making this happen by working together in the various aspects of this project. It could be a blueprint for sites all around the Country, where Veterans could receive the training and mentorships they so richly deserve. It is where our Veterans will become renewed and develop a sense of positivity for their futures. And it is something every American should get behind. Suicide is a real option for our Vets and it needs to be replaced with the opportunity for success as an active American citizen.
Just as the seasons change, and life changes in a moment, we can affect change like that for our Veterans. We can, and we should, do anything and everything to save a life. All life is sacred, and as many of you know I am 100% pro life from a natural beginning to a natural end. Being pro life means you are against suicide, simply because it is the antithesis of life. It is purposely ending a life, needlessly. When suicide is seen as the only option to someone, we all need to step in and offer hope. We need to offer a different solution. We owe it to our Country, and to each person struggling to re-enter civilian life, after serving every, single, one of us. They make it possible for us to sleep safely in our beds at night, and to live a productive life. We need to give our Veterans that, too.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37
As Christians, we are called, and compelled by our faith, to reach out a hand to others. The wonderful story of the Good Samaritan came to me. Here was a man, found on the side of the road, near death. Others mockingly passed him by, crossing to the other side of the road. One was even a Priest. The Samaritan man, who was in amongst people that were not his own, and was normally not one to reach out to other cultures, took this injured man to an inn and paid for his entire healthcare and reintroduction to an active life. He had been left for dead on the side of the road. We should feel compelled to reach out to those of our servicemen and women who feel they have been left on the side of the road, with no other option than to die. It is wrong and it needs to stop. Today. Every day 22 Veterans feel lost, with no hope, and choose death over living any longer the way they are. We need to be ashamed that suicide is their only option. We need to save our Veterans and do what we can to end their nightmarish existence. We need to let them experience how life can change on a dime, and how the sun will always rise. We want to open windows of change for each of them. We need to be the example of what we believe. We need to throw off the constraints of division and reach out to EVERY person who thinks death is preferable to life in our neighborhoods. Our Veterans deserve this and so much more. Please care. Again, from Luke: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? The expert on the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” “Go and do likewise.” Our Veterans are our neighbors….