Nearly 100 years ago, the Armistice was set for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and brought an end to the carnage of The Great War.
Since then, Armistice Day is set aside to celebrate our veterans and to remember those who gave their last full measure of duty. Families bear these debts across generations. I carry as my middle name a reminder of the cost of my family’s service. I am named for my grandfather’s brother, who died in the battle of the Marne during World War I, and for my mother’s brother – named after his uncle – killed in the South Pacific in 1944.
In Fresno, we mark Veterans Day with our parade – said to be the largest on the West Coast. But the task of helping veterans extends to every day, both for those who carry the memories and wounds of warfare and those who return with leadership experiences that can be transformed into new jobs, new skills and new businesses.
So, recently, we launched a challenge campaign to match a $25,000 contribution from our board’s Fund of the Common Good to help local agencies respond to the needs of local veterans.
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At the Central Valley Community Foundation, we believe it is time to step up to help the 1 percent who volunteered to serve in uniform during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a matter of equity. Not since the Revolutionary War has a major military conflict been fought by volunteers, and by such a small percentage of our citizenry.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke eloquently of the endurance of our returning veterans: “This tiny sliver of America has achieved extraordinary things under the most trying of circumstances. It is the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle. These young men and women have seen the complex, grueling, maddening face of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century up close. They’ve lost friends and comrades. Some are struggling psychologically with what they’ve seen and heard and felt on the battlefield. And yet they keep coming back.”
For many veterans, our reliance on a volunteer military has meant multiple tours in combat zones; many had originally enlisted in the National Guard with no expectation of overseas service. Recent studies show how repeated deployments affect the children of service members, including fewer medical visits and an increased need for mental health support. Marriages are strained, once-in-a lifetime events are missed or seen on Skype, and parents can return as strangers to their families.
It is estimated as many as 30 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, which haunts the transition to activities civilians take for granted, such as walking through crowds at the mall or driving through an intersection.
Studies from such organizations as the Rand Corp. have shown local agencies provide the most effective services, especially when programs connect veterans with their peers. Many San Joaquin Valley organizations do outstanding work addressing the trauma issues and helping veterans access benefits, restart an education or get job-training skills.
Gates noted these veterans also have extraordinary life and leadership skills to offer. “Our young military leaders have to one degree or another found themselves dealing with development, governance, agriculture, health and diplomacy. They’ve done all this at an age when many of their peers are reading spreadsheets and making photocopies.”
The Veterans of Central Valley Fund was established as a permanent endowment by local leaders who felt it was important there be a place where grateful Americans could pool their donations and then have that money distributed directly to local service organizations as annual grants.
The foundation has been the proud fiscal sponsor of Central Valley Honor Flight, which takes World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial to their service. The gifts of more than 1,400 donors to the Honor Flight acknowledge the respect these veterans have earned.
For vets in need, this is the 11th hour. Your gift today can make a huge difference to veterans and their families. Send your contribution to the Veterans of the Central Valley Fund at the Central Valley Community Foundation, 5260 N. Palm Ave., Suite 122, Fresno, CA 94704.
Hugh J. Ralston is president & CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, formerly the Fresno Regional Foundation.