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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thanks to Waltham's Back Pages Books and Massachusetts' Veteran Support Community

backpages_051007_4Here's to good beginnings.

Arrived home yesterday afternoon from Moving a Nation to Care's kick-off New England area book signing (Philly and NYC, you're up next). Many people to thank for making my trip out to the Boston area a productive and stimulating success. MyDD by way of My Left Nutmeg even got wind of what we were up to and passed it along to their readers:

Blue Mass Group highlights a community event on combat PTSD – for better or worse, the fact that American soldiers return to their postwar lives with substandard medical, educational, and economic situations has historically been one of the only conditions where highlighting and combatting inequality is attractive across the ideological spectrum. Community organizing to ensure that those returning from Iraq find their unique needs met will pay real dividends across our society, and I'd love to hear what grassroots approaches the event attendees came up with.

Sheesh. They can't keep anything a secret out there. [wink] Please follow me below the fold to meet some of the people working hard to take care of Massachusett's returning vets.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for much more...

Fortunately, the secret wasn't safe because of my right hand man, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon co-producer/co-director Kevin Bowe. He rustled up some of the best of local hearts and hands for an intimate gathering on Thursday night at Alex Green's Back Pages Books in Waltham (Alex must be among the youngest, kindest, coolest of indy bookstore owners around; that's him below to the right).

Sight unseen, Kevin had contacted me a couple of months ago to ask what he could do to make my visit to his area a success. You pulled it off in spades, sir. Kevin is a magnetic force, and you guys are lucky to have him in Massachusetts. He should be made an honorary ambassador or something!

Speaking of magnetic force, see that lovely smiling face above and to the left? People may not be protesting in the streets in droves, but this time there is a real solid group of citizen that increasingly wants to help our returning troops. I didn't ask her to beam like that; she was just excited that a book like ours came to be.

(She made me beam, too. I arrived at the bookstore early, only to find her having just bought one of my books. Alex -- or was it my friend RubDMC that I had popped in early to meet with -- said, "Well, there's the author right now." Asking if I'd sign her book, I asked Alex if he could snap a photo of the occasion: my first official book sale, and first official book signing recorded. I know, it's not going to fetch as much money as Paris Hilton's prison photos will, but it's worth its weight in gold to me. I was so excited, her name has slipped from my memory, darn it, but thank you for your energy and your support -- and keep beaming!)

Others in attendance included (in group photo above, first on the left) Alma Hart, Gold Star Mother of Pfc. John D. Hart. Many might recognize the last name. She and her husband, Brian, were the catalysts behind the Pentagon's improvement of troop armor, after pushing their representatives for improvements so others would not die as their son had.

Bob Quinn (behind Mrs. Hart) represented the great work being done by the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. I can't rave enough about the kindness of Quinn and this group (NESHV was awarded the prestigious Valley Forge Freedom Foundation George Washington Honor Medal last year, so I'm not alone in my belief). Their website is also packed with events and resources -- and you don't have to be a homeless veteran to warrant the visit.

Next is Kevin Bowe again in the group photo. He has been working with the DA's office on a groundbreaking program that aims to protect both community and returning veteran. As some troops return home, they cope with hypervigilence and the need to push the envelope; that can, at times, result in their popping up on the law's radar screen. In March, I posted on Massachusett's thoughtful response to these incidents. From the San Jose Mercury News:

In Massachusetts, the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office has launched an unprecedented effort to prepare police officers and others to interact with soldiers and veterans who may pose risks to themselves and others. Mindful that more than 1.6 million Americans have now served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the office is training police and probation officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians on the signs of PTSD. ...PTSD "manifests itself in many ways, and we want our first-responders to recognize this," said Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating. "It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but if a veteran has a brush with the law, we need to help him."

Keating's uncle struggled with PTSD after serving in World War II, and that inspired him to launch the program. His office has created a 10-minute training video, available on YouTube, in the hope that increased public awareness will reduce veteran-related crime.

"As the trickle of soldiers coming back from Iraq becomes a flood, more of these kinds of cases are going to happen," Keating said. "Helping veterans assimilate and get the kind of treatment they need - even if they are in the criminal justice system - is the least we can do."

Kevin helped organize (not surprisingly) a community forum in February 2005. That forum resulted in the production of the 10 minute video mentioned above, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

If you'd like a free DVD copy of the video, which may be used or copied for any non-commercial uses, simply call 781-830-4800 x 386 and leave your name and mailing address. (Kevin brought a box of DVDs to pass out to those in attendance and gave me a whole handful to share with others while I'm on the road).

The program that Kevin had a hand in moving forward is now being replicated in Wisconsin and a handful of other states. How's that for citizens making a difference?

Dr. Jaine Darwin, Co-Director of Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists (SOFAR) -- a group found in Moving's resources chapter -- came to pass out booklets and shared the news that their work would appear in Oprah Winfrey's magazine next month. She said it was a great thing, especially since the hardest thing about their job is actually reaching veterans and their families to let them know they have this resource available.

Rounding out our comfy group were my ePluribus Media colleague, who blogs under the name Greyhawk, and his wife and mother-in-law, and even a new acquaintence: my seatmate on my flight over to Boston. Kathie was in town on business herself, and said if she could find the book store, that she wanted to come out to participate as well...that the topic was important and interesting.

Thank you for everyone for making it a memorable start forward.

Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to thank ace reporter Charlotte Crockford whose show Thinking Out Loud is broadcast on 91.5 FM WUML, UMass-Lowell's radio dial. She came out and recorded a 15 minute interview with me prior to our Back Pages gathering described above. Give it a listen. What a lovely lady; she got the evening off to a good start for me. Thanks, Charlotte!

In closing, I'd like to give special thanks to Robert Lasner and Elizabeth Clementson at Ig Publishing. You've made all of this possible. Can't wait to finally get a chance to meet you next week in New York.

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