GRAHAMSVILLE, NY — “It’s a privilege, an honor to do something for your country and the people in it. And it’s hard to explain, but to be honest with you, I felt like I got …
GRAHAMSVILLE, NY — “It’s a privilege, an honor to do something for your country and the people in it. And it’s hard to explain, but to be honest with you, I felt like I got more out of it than I gave,” said former U.S Army Special Forces (SF) Green Beret Derek Stoner.
He was taking a break from performing on stage at the Grahamsville fairgrounds, during the first annual Vet Fest from the Sullivan County group Vet 2 Vet and Action Toward Independence (ATI).
Like most veterans, Stoner had a story to tell about why he joined the United States military in service to his country, and about the call to preserve its cherished freedoms, despite the ever-evolving challenges around the world.
In 1997, as a 17-year-old, he signed up with the Missouri National Guard. Four years later, in the aftermath of the foreign terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001 on our homeland, he went on active duty as an infantryman with the U.S. Army.
In short order, Stoner enlisted in the Army’s elite Special Forces program, and was stationed out of Fort Campbell astride the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, except for a three-year stint as an instructor at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the birthplace of the hallowed Green Berets.
Before retiring as a Master Sergeant in January and pursuing his passion for songwriting and performing, he served 16 tours of duty overseas, including 10 combat tours in such far-flung regions as Afghanistan and Iraq. He had six other deployments “related to operations in the Middle East… every year would be a tactical deployment.”
Asked his view of the world situation today, and how it affects the United States, Stoner replied, “It’s not in very good shape. I’m not happy about it, and I think most Americans are not happy with it.
“Frankly, if we did things the Lord’s way, we’d be better off. If we get away from that, we’re going to be screwed up.”
Lauren Roman is a peer veteran advocate with Vet 2 Vet of Sullivan County, a new peer-networking program created by ATI.
Vet 2 Vet is dedicated to vets helping veterans with “peer support, advocacy, benefit advertisement peer counseling, financial literacy, mental health and more.”
“We help veterans and offer peer support, and help connect them with resources like housing,” said the veteran of the war in Iraq. There she served from 2009-2010 with a field artillery unit assigned to the 4th Armored Division, the same one that in WWII spearheaded General Patton’s Third Army in the European theater.
“Being a veteran, I wanted to help other veterans,” she said when asked why she volunteered with Vet 2 Vet. “It’s something near and dear to my heart, because I have seen the struggle that veterans face, especially with their mental health.”
Roman’s husband Christopher is also a proud veteran (2005-2015), who retired as a major from the U.S. Army Medical Corps, after serving two overseas deployments in Afghanistan, as well as in Romania, Poland and Somalia.
“An event like this is really heartfelt, because you get to see and talk to other veterans,” he said. “They’re not strangers, because you’ve got a lot in common. Service to our country is just a little bit of what we can do for this great country of ours, the freedoms that we have here people take for granted, and by service to your country, you can pay that back.”
Chris Edwards, a Marine Corps veteran, served in the Middle East from 2001-2004, and along with his family showed up in support of Vet Fest, along with Cute, a Vet 2 Vet service dog in training.
“I think it’s great to serve,” he explained, noting that his 17-year-old son Benjamin is currently completing boot camp at the U.S. Marine Corps’ vaunted Parris Island training facility.
Troy Parucki, a retired New York state trooper with 26 years of service in law enforcement, was on hand to display the colors of our nation with hand-crafted wooden American flags created by the Grain to Glory Flag Company, an enterprise that he founded along with business partner Ryan Thumann.
“Obviously, in this world we live in today, we need to stand by all the amendments and rights that our forefathers fought for,” he said in the spirit of supporting veterans of the nation’s military.
Meanwhile, Doug Sandberg, a retired staff sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, circulated among the crowd, interviewing fellow veterans for his popular weekly show “Let’s Talk Vets,” which is broadcast over the airwaves by Radio Catskill WJFF.
Learn more about Vet 2 Vet of Sullivan County, NY on Facebook at Vet 2 Vet of Sullivan County.
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