Honoring those who serve

Published 3:18 pm Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ssg. Steven Davis, left, and Ssg. Danny Lowman are photographed outside the Austin National Guard Armory Thursday. Davis served in Kosovo on a peacekeeping mission and Lowman served in Iraq and Kosovo. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

America is set to honor the men and women who have served and are serving the nation in military service, but this is something that’s not limited to one day out of the year.

While Veterans Day is Nov. 11, Mower County Veterans Services Director Wayne Madson has been busy in his office making sure veterans are receiving all the benefits available to them.

“The American people have stood behind support the troops,” Madson said. “Whether they agree or disagree with what’s going on, they’ve stood behind the individual, which I think is a very good thing.”

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While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be as extensively covered by the national media as in the past, Staff Sgt. Danny Lowman, the training non-commissioned officer of the 1135th National Guard unit, said he still sees plenty of appreciation at home.

“Every time I go out, I get more thank-yous than I did before,” Lowman said. “I guess not as many people talk about it as much as they once did, but I don’t think it’s been forgotten.”

Madson noted most people know of a person serving in the military.

“We all know somebody who’s either been there or is going,” Madson said.

Veterans Committee chairman Norm Hecimovich said it’s important for people to honor veterans however possible.

“We kind of forget because we’re over here and we’re safe,” Hecimovich said.

‘The volume has picked up’

The public’s support isn’t the only way veterans are honored, as there are a number of benefits that go through Madson’s office, including discharge papers, medical, dental benefits and more.

Hecimovich said it’s important to care for the roughly 460,000 veterans in Minnesota — about 3,000 in Mower County — during and after their time of service.

“We have to give our people something extra … because they’re putting their lives on the line everyday,” Hecimovich said.

This level of turnover and the number of veterans has kept Madson busy ensuring local veterans are receiving services.

“Even though we don’t have a draft, it sucks up a lot of your younger people,” Madson said.

“The volume has picked up as in the need for veterans’ services,” he added.

Troops typically go in for 18 months total with six months of training and then a year in the theater. Madson said this system rotates people in and out more quickly than in the past. People who wish to serve again can return within six months.

Madson said the education benefits veterans have been receiving have been some of the strongest since post-World War II, with the GI Bill being worth upwards of $80,000.

“We’re getting more and more younger people that are coming out of the service and are using their education benefits,” Madson said.

“It’s a huge benefit for them, because now it will pay for the entire college and give them a subsistence allowance,” he added.

Hecimovich said the education benefits have been expanded to include a veteran’s child if he or she is redeployed.

Despite the support for troops and veterans, Madson said many people still have a difficult time adjusting when they return from overseas.

Madson started his service near the time of Vietnam, and he saw what a hard time the veterans had when they came back in adjusting after their time abroad. Many people even had difficulty adjusting to the services back in the states and duties like shining boots, Madson said.

“You go to a third world country, and they live so much different than we do,” Madson said. “You’ve got a young man or woman and they’re taken from our environment and they’re thrown into a third world environment.”

Staff Sgt. Danny Lowman, the training non-commissioned officer of the 1135th, said he saw the vast differences between life in the U.S. and life in Iraq when he was stationed there.

“On one side of the street you can see palaces … that had furniture that was gold plated,” he said. “Then on that same street, if you looked behind you, you’d have people in mud huts with no shoes.”

“They’re trying to get food — just a basic necessity,” he added.

Madson said that young people in the military have often seen very traumatic things.

“There’s so much responsibility put on that person,” he added.

‘People realize what you’re doing’

While there’s still a difficult transition for veterans, Madson said the general positive attitude is of great benefit to veterans.

That hasn’t always been the case in the past. Madson also noted the Vietnam War had a far larger scope than current conflicts.

“I can’t imagine what people did in this office when Vietnam was going on,” Madson said.

The public is far more receptive to veterans now when they return home than during the Vietnam war, Madson said.

Madson said recent veterans are more receptive to services offered through his office than the veterans of the past. This is likely because of the wide spread appreciation of veterans’ contributions, Madson said.

Staff Sgt. Steven Davis, who now works as a recruiter, said the support makes troops feel like they’re doing the right thing.

“People realize what you’re doing for what they have,” he said.

Likewise, Lowman said the support is beneficial to troops.

“It is nice that the community is behind you,” he said. “It’s not like you’re an outcast.”