ST. PAUL, Minn. – Members of St. Bernard Parish in St. Paul are exploring how their faith community can best contribute to a statewide campaign designed to aid soldiers making the transition from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to being back home with their families.
The campaign, called “Warrior to Citizen,” is also drawing support from governmental bodies, businesses and social and civic groups. It was created by the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Returning veterans have a variety of needs, according to Dennis Donovan, national organizer for public achievement at the institute’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship.
Initiatives can include job fairs centered on their education, talents and leadership skills; creation of a virtual Veterans of Foreign Wars post on the Internet that connects returning veterans with each other; or a one-stop clearinghouse that offers a variety of services.
“Warrior to Citizen” is “a long-term campaign, and the grass-roots component is key for its success,” said Donovan.
At St. Bernard in late September, he and Ellen Tveit, partnership coordinator for the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, led an initial discussion on how the parish community and the larger community can help returning soldiers. Donovan and Tveit recorded the responses from the group during the 90-minute session.
Donovan, a former principal at St. Bernard School, said he and Tveit learned more about how they can help the group’s participants execute an action plan to work with returning veterans.
“They will assist in (veterans’) integration, whether it be helping them get a job or putting on a pancake breakfast to thank them for their service or creating some type of awareness in the St. Bernard’s community,” he said.
The men and women at the meeting shared stories about their loved ones serving current tours and coming home on leave, as well as what they need to transition back to civilian life.
Barbara Rath sat near her husband, Mike, and told the story of their son, Andy, serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
“I obviously care about my own son, but I care about all the men and women who are risking their lives to protect us,” she said. “We should take care of them when they return home.”
Nichole Egan, 21, said she knows the condition of a soldier coming home from Iraq. Her husband, Stefan, 22, is serving in Iraq in the Army infantry.
Egan said she watched her husband try to readjust from combat readiness back to his married life.
“It’s hard for him to sleep sometimes when he comes home on leave from Iraq to daily life here in St. Paul,” said Egan, who sat next to her grandmother, Carol Erickson, a longtime St. Bernard parishioner.
“I am looking forward to producing something to help my husband in his return to civilian life as well as help the other men and women returning to the Twin Cities and Minnesota,” Egan said.