By Ingrid Howard
As a way to appreciate veterans from the community ahead of Veterans Day, Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry on Nov. 8 presented the Salute to Our Veterans celebration at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church.
This is the first time Vestavia Hills has hosted the celebration, and Curry said he hopes to make it an annual event.
“One thing we should never forget – as a matter of fact, we must not forget – and that’s the sacrifices that our veterans made to keep our country free,” he said.
The keynote speaker was retired Maj. Gen. Paulette Risher. Risher was the first woman to command an Army Special Operations unit as a flag officer. She now is chief programs officer with Still Serving Veterans, a nonprofit that helps veterans find civilian jobs.
Oftentimes, Risher said, people will come to Still Serving Veterans because they are facing unemployment for the first time in their lives.
“They’ve never been unemployed,” she said. “They don’t know what that feels like. They have to go home and tell mama, that for the first time, that six-figure income, that six-figure mortgage, those kids in college, all in jeopardy.”
Another major transition that Risher said she sees in her line of work is people trying to cope after losing a spouse.
“When you go from being married to widowed or divorced, that’s a major transition,” she said.
That’s exactly what Don Minshew, a World War II veteran who attended the event, is going through.
“She passed away February of this year,” Minshew said.
When asked how he managed this transition, Minshew said he’s not through it yet. He held up his left hand, a gold ring still on his finger.
“The phases of transition and grieving catch people by surprise,” Risher said. “Some people … are coming out of this with nothing, and they’ll come back and just be overwhelmed by having to figure out and having to say goodbye to something they dearly love.”
To help each other and help other veterans, Risher has a few pieces of advice for the crowd.
“Be willing to listen and be available to hear. It takes a special heart to open yourself up to people that are hurting,” she said.
“Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked,” she continued. “You can’t tell somebody else what they should do with their lives.”
She also encouraged people to talk about transition as a process. When people realize the process is something that a lot of people go through, it will help them not feel crazy, Risher said.
“Finally, encourage the veteran to think about – or any of us – to think about our identity,” she said. “Talk with them and help them figure it out.”
If concerned about another’s mental health, Risher said to call the Veteran Crisis Line at 800-273-8255.
“It was an honor for me to serve, me and both my brothers,” Minshew said. “We all got back, just scratched up a little bit.”
For more information about Still Serving Veterans, visit ssv.org.