Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
Bonds of comradeship continue
Local vet finds satisfaction helping others
By Eric Adams
The United States military is rife with unique divisions, assignments and experiences that span many eras and regions of the globe. Service men and women were harkened to their calling for different purposes but on Monday, they were recognized as one.
Tom Risch, who has served 25 years as the Veterans Services Director for Mercer County, never envisioned himself assuming his current role. When the Veteran's Services Commission initially approached him about the job, he owned his own woodworking business and was fairly content.
"I really didn't know how satisfying a job this (would be)," he said. "Once I found out, it was the best decision I ever made."
Risch's office has the responsibility of filing for federal and state benefits on behalf of veterans and their dependents. These include education, insurance and service-connected compensation for vets who develop chronic illnesses, among a host of others.
Veteran's Services brought in over $10 million in benefits to the county in 2012, Risch said.
"That's something to be proud of," he said. "Not only are we helping people ... we're contributing to the economy."
But the most rewarding component is the camaraderie Risch feels with the people he assists.
"You become close to everybody who walks through the door," he said. "Every one of them in some way or another has touched my heart."
The central bond between veterans from different branches of service and even regions of the country is understood by Sgt. Paul Slone, a 29-year-old St. Marys resident and Iraq War veteran who earned the prestigious Bronze Star with Combat Valor. Slone's service began with the initial United States invasion of Iraq, known as "Shock and Awe."
Strong bonds among his unit were forged quickly during the conflict.
"We all came from such different lifestyles ... Ohio, Los Angeles, Louisiana - we didn't grow up the same," he said. "(But) what we love is America, our families, and we'll fight to protect them."
Cole Schaffner, a Celina resident and Lance Corporal formerly deployed in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, added that family members of fellow soldiers begin to feel like an extended family through stories shared in the barracks.
"One of the greatest pastimes for everybody in the military is talking about their good old days, the times they had back at home," he said. "You really become brothers - their family and friends are just as important as yours."
But with these irreplaceable bonds and experiences often comes a sense of bewilderment upon returning home. Risch said one of the most common struggles of current veterans is their readjustment process. He partially attributed this to modern warfare, which entails near-constant vigilance due to the guerilla tactics employed by enemies.
Slone has faced this fallout, having sustained an IED-related head injury. After a hospitalization period, his physical health is improved, but certain psychological struggles remain, including the overwhelming normalcy of civilian life, which had grown foreign during his service.
He appreciates the aid he has received at VA Medical Centers and local veteran service organizations, and he urges other veterans in need to pursue the options.
"When you're in combat, everything is so black and white," he said. "Then you come back to the United States; there are different decisions to be made, and your life has absolutely been altered."