Arizona Veterans: Veterans Serving the Community

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We’ll talk about how veterans continue to serve the community at large after their service in the military with David Lucier, a decorated Army veteran who has served on numerous boards and commissions, and Tait Elkie, a former Marine who also has a long list of community service.

Ted Simons: We continue our look at veterans issues with a focus tonight on the many ways veterans can and do serve their communities. Joining us now, David Lucier, a decorated army veteran who has served on numerous boards and commissions, and Tait Elkie, a marine veteran who also has a long history of community service. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

David Lucier: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: Veterans serving the community. Give us some examples. Give us examples of how you have served the community as a veteran.

David Lucier: Well, I've come back from three wars, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and so each time I came back it was a little bit different and I started hearing this term called transition and that was -- and it seemed to make sense, it seemed like a good word but then it became real because I was coming home once again and the question at the time was now what? Now, what do you do? And so I asked some people, I took people's advice and asked around and somebody put me to work building a veterans memorial out in Tempe. And so that was kind of my entree into not only transitioning back into the community but working in the veterans' community.

Ted Simons: Talk to me about your experience, you got talent, you got skills but it's a whole different environment.

Tait Elkie: Absolutely. You serve with men, I was in a combat unit in the marines and you serve beside these men every day and you develop this brotherhood and once you get out, you lose that and you don't develop the kind of friendships that you do while you're in the military. So some of the things that I looked into after getting out was -- and I did join the V.F.W., Veterans of Foreign Wars and different organizations cultures that to reconnect with men and women that had similar experiences.

Ted Simons: And as far as some of these volunteers, it sounds like a lot of volunteer work is involved. This could range from intense activity to maybe just a weekend activity.

Tait Elkie: That's exactly right. It could involve going and helping a veteran in need in their home, doing some repairs or some of our veteran organizations do food sales at different fairs and fundraisers and they use those moneys to support different organizations.

David Lucier: Fellas like Tait are good at that. I don't do particularly well on a one-on-one basis, but I do a little bit better when it comes to building models for opportunities for veterans. We did -- we were successful in getting past in the legislature some years ago in-state tuition bill for veterans. Huge impact. I worked with Dr. Crow at ASU to build out a veterans' model for support for their success. And so that's the pathway that I chose.

Ted Simons: I was going to say you kind of have to know what you do best, maybe what your limitations are because the impact on veterans, you can serve in new ways, you've got tough new challenges. These are all things that as military people you have experience with.

Tait Elkie: That's absolutely correct. I'm also an attorney and I serve on an advisory committee that is working to bring a veterans court to the east valley. It's involving Scottsdale, Mesa and Tempe, and it's in early stages presently but it's going to be developed to serve the needs of veterans and the special needs that they have coming back from serving in conflict and the issues that arise out of that, such as addictions, mental illness, alcohol, substance abuse.

Ted Simons: Please.

David Lucier: I was just going to say that if we pull back and sort of vision this thing and we vision Arizona as being the most veteran-supported state in the nation in education and training, jobs and economic opportunity and health and wellness and all these other things kind of come from that, the veterans court is a great example. Phoenix is I think the largest veterans court in the country now in just a few short years. Tempe just stood up a veterans' court in a little over a year. They've got about 200 people going through it. They have had about a hundred people go successfully complete that process with zero recidivism at the end. It's reaching out and building these models that folks like Tait can take over and implement and help veterans be successful.

Ted Simons: For fellow veterans that are out there and who might find this interesting and want to know more about how it would benefit them, starting a new career, gaining practical work experience, just finding a new way to serve at home. Pretty important stuff, isn't it?

Tait Elkie: It absolutely is because again, when you're working with your fellow service members day after day after day, you lose that little bit of a camaraderie that you had and being able to serve on the weekends with the fellow veterans that have served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, there's a number of World War II veterans that we're losing day by day, but being able to do that and reconnect and speak the same language, that's extremely important.

Ted Simons: And giving direction and I think the bottom line is just having a sense of purpose.

David Lucier: Absolutely. Coming home from a combat situation, you're there one day and today's the way we travel, you're home the next. And you find yourself literally staring down the cereal aisle, trying to figure out what's next. What am I going to do that is going to be as meaningful as the environment I just came out of? Again, the idea of transition is huge and Tait touched upon this where you've got your clothes, your language, the people -- the work itself is all very much culturally induced and, all of a sudden, you come home and things have changed, and it's like you've stepped off the rocket ship onto an alien planet. The language is different, you know. I mean, people act differently.

Ted Simons: They do but getting a job done and that sense of purpose and the teamwork involved that has to help. With that in mind, how does a veteran figure out I want to help the community? How does the community figure out I want some help from vets?

David Lucier: There's a number of ways but basically connecting with other veterans is one of the good ways. There are a myriad of resources available to them online. If you were to just google veterans' activities or veterans' resources, literally hundreds of thousands of sites would come up and connect. One of the best ways is to find a buddy, find your battle buddy as they call them in the army and ask them what's going on out there? How can I get involved so you can get involved very easily with organizations like The Mission Continues or Red White and Blue or Team Rubicon, all designed to bring veterans together.

Ted Simons: And we should mention that studies show that vets volunteer more than civilians.

Tait Elkie: I think it's just the fact that it's what made them a veteran to begin is their dedication to the community, dedication to their country. And when you're in the military, whether it's marine or the army, we have this rivalry, of course, between the army and the marines, and it's long-standing but when you serve, and you meet other service members, you know what they've been through and you have that shared experience but I think that veterans really want to give back to the community because it's ingrained in them.

Ted Simons: We've got to stop it right there. That's a great place to stop. Thank you both so much for joining us. That's it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Tait Elkie: former Marine, David Lucier: Decorated Army veteran

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