Help for our heroes

Concern for returning soliders spurs former Leavenworth educator to action

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by Kara Hansen

LEAVENWORTH — The family members of soldiers returning safely from Iraq count themselves lucky.

But “safely” is a relative term.

A loved one’s return finds many families adjusting to a new life entirely — one that often looks much different than what they expected.

And sometimes it’s undertaken without the help they need to move on.

The Henry Leavenworth Chapter of the Association of the United States Army is hoping to change all that for military personnel returning to the Leavenworth area.

“We’re ultimately wanting to set up an assistance program in Leavenworth and the surrounding counties in Kansas and Missouri,” explained retired Col. Rolly Dessert, “and build a network that will help us identify the needs out there that are going unmet.”

Dessert, a parishioner of St. Ignatius Parish at Fort Leavenworth and one of the founders of the program, said that Helping Our Own at Home (HOOAH) is intended to bring attention to the needs of this nation’s military wounded warriors.

Dessert first heard of a similar program through friends of his in Huntsville, Ala. There, a support group was created to help military personnel returning from active duty with everything from loss of limbs to traumatic brain injury to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They saw a need to set up a group to help wounded warriors and help them get back into a new normal life,” said Dessert. “I thought we should be doing the same thing in our area, because we have men and families hurting here.”

The creation of HOOAH, sponsored by the AUSA, was announced at a news conference held at the Veterans Day parade in Leavenworth Nov.11 by Dessert and retired Brig. Gen. Stan Cherrie, both members of the organization.

Dessert said sometimes returning servicemen need something as simple as guidance on how to access benefits they are already entitled to from either the government or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We have seen through research that many times soldiers are so anxious to get back home to their families they will completely forego applying for entitled benefits,” he said.

Others could use help finding employment, obtaining counseling, or re-modeling their home to make it more accessible for someone with a physical disability.

And these are just a few of the ways Dessert sees HOOAH being helpful to wounded warriors.

“This is one way for the community to support those who have made the difficult decision to sacrifice themselves in service to their country,” he said.

Dessert began his 30-year military career during the height of the Vietnam War.

“I saw those returning from Vietnam come home in various stages of woundedness,” he said, “and it was very difficult for soldiers to adjust to being back, as well as for their families.”

Dessert said that the degree of support for active duty military personnel and their families is greater today than it was during the Vietnam War era. Whereas during Vietnam, individual members of the armed forces were shipped out for duty, now groups are trained together and sent to serve together in Iraq.

As a result, families of those serving overseas in a specific unit know each other and are more easily able to support each other, he said.

Even with the added level of support, however, there are still gaps and needs going unmet for returning military personnel.

“There is a whole level of needs for someone coming back wounded from the war. I hope we can increase awareness in the community of their needs and plight, particularly in the private sector,” said Dessert.

HOOAH also plans to conduct fundraising throughout the year to help set up a fund for wounded warriors and their families.

For more information or to find out how you can help, contact Dessert at (913) 680-6571.

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