My mother gave me luggage for my 18th birthday.  It was subtle message that I needed to move along.  That push led me to enlisting in the USAF for four years.  Until recently, I’ve never really felt like a veteran. I mean a veteran served on the front line, not behind a desk, right?  It turns out a lot of former military personnel feel that way.  Medical personnel and support staff for example. It’s taken me decades to realize that all of us were important and just about any of us that voluntarily served would have done anything we were asked to do to support the mission.

I needed to change jobs last year for my personal well-being.  One of the first jobs I applied for was a Veterans Service Officer. I had never heard of a VSO, but after finding out that these county employees help veterans apply for all the benefits and services to which they are entitled, I knew this job was mine.  I interviewed and was ready to help change lives.  Unfortunately, I was not hired.  It was heartbreaking,  yet it started me on a new journey to connect and serve in the local veteran community.

One way I network is by participating in Veterans Bridge Home events. VBH is a nonprofit organization that serves as a social connector and a referral source for veterans in need.  Some of the most interesting conversations I have with the other veterans happen during the monthly Fort Mill Lunch at Towne Tavern.  The lunch is the third Thursday of each month from 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.  Kirk Rygol is the Captain for the Fort Mill Lunch and I asked him why he volunteers in this capacity.  Kirk said he serves as captain “To reach out to veterans for connection and outreach”.   Paul Bill, the Employment Alliance Director for Veterans Bridge Home added that VBH does this to “Give the veteran the thing they miss the most when they leave the service:  Camaraderie”.

If you have served, and are able, please join other veterans in Fort Mill for this monthly lunch, or at any other of the numerous local events.  Here is a link to the Veterans Bridge Home calendar.  You can find additional events by checking the CarolinaVeterans.org calendar.  You can eat, work out, talk, network, attend trainings, be partnered with a professional development mentor, and even down an occasional brew with other fantastic men and women who have served, and others that still are.

And if you have served and are in need, don’t go it alone. PLEASE contact:

Veterans Crisis Line  800-273-8255, Press 1  

Veterans Bridge Home  704-332-8802

Gaston County Department of Veterans Services  704-866-3606 

Mecklenburg County Community Support Services Veterans Services Division  704-432-7233

York County Veterans Affairs Office  803-909-7525

Blog & Photos by Guru Erick Lake

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