Military need more than a handshake

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HELPING OTHERS — Maine Army National Guard Sgt. Nathan Grace told the Board of Selectmen at its June 21 meeting that he went to "the depths of despair" after returning from overseas duty to an empty home.

OXFORD — Maine National Army Guard Sgt. Nathan Grace came home from active duty overseas to an empty house.

His wife was gone, along with his children.

In despair, Grace said he was put in touch with a veterans center through the Maine Military Community Network for help.

MEETING NEEDS — Maine Army National Guard Sgt. Nathan Grace told selectmen at their June 21 meeting servicemen and women often need more than a handshake when they come home.

“She helped me to see there were more reasons to live for than to die for,” he said.

Grace said that help was his turning point.

“It became my mission to tell others about services,” he told the Board of Selectmen at its June 21 meeting.

The network is  a Maine Army National Guard program that collaborates with organizations, volunteers, communities to raise awareness about the challenges service members, veterans, and their families face and connects them to services and resources in their communities.

And that’s where becoming a Military Friendly Community comes in.

Towns and cities across Maine, like Lewiston, Houlton and Augusta, have signed covenants to become Military Friendly Communities.

It’s more than a welcome home handshake and thank you for your service, he said.

“The point is a lot of our service members need services,” he told the Board of Selectmen.

The designation shows military members that the community actively supports military in part by placing a designated, volunteer point of contact in the community who will be available to direct military personnel to services they may need.

“We’re sending a message to veterans they’re welcome here,” said Town Manager Butch Asselin,who is familiar with the program through the town of Houlton, where he served previously as town manager and police chief.

The program can be as little or as big as the community wants it to be. In Houlton, for example, the town had a “Military Friendly Community” banner and brochures printed and below the Welcome to Houlton sign they hung a Military Friendly Community sign.

Businesses often get involved by offering discounts and more importantly, jobs. The ideas are endless, but the point is the same. Support for homecoming servicemen and women.

Jim Perkins, an Oxford resident, veteran and retired lieutenant on the Lewiston Police Department, told selectmen that he was so moved by Grace’s presentation that he wished to donate $400 toward a sign. The offer was immediately matched by Selectman Caldwell Jackson.

On a motion by Selectman Scot Hunter, the board unanimously agreed to move forward to become a Military Friendly Community.

A covenant signing is expected to will be held in the future.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net