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Veterans reflect on 9/11 and events in Afghanistan

DUTCHESS COUNTY — Between the approaching 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro in conjunction with the Dutchess County Division of Veterans’ Services and Mental Health America (MHA) of Dutchess County Veterans’ Programs were concerned with the welfare of local veterans. That’s why they joined forced and urged veterans and civilians alike to take part in an important conversation about how current world events and other issues are impacting veterans, at the Veterans Telephone Town Hall forum on Monday, Aug. 30.

Going live at 5:30 p.m., the forum was held at the VFW Post 170 building in Poughkeepsie. Molinaro invited the thousands of vets calling in to ask questions, which were recorded and answered later that evening.

Grateful to the organizations represented at the forum, Molinaro explained the county assembled a group of veterans and representatives from a number of veteran service organizations, including the Dutchess County Division of Veteran Services, Vet2Vet, VetZero, Veterans Employment Training & Transition Assistance Program (VET-TAP) and others. 

“We’re grateful to each and every one of you,” said Molinaro to the veterans on behalf of the county and its residents, “and tonight is a continuation of our mission… a mission of providing assistance and support to veterans in and around our community.”

Understanding veterans are probably concerned and have questions about the events in Afghanistan, and how they’ve impacted soldiers and civilians, Molinaro inviting Dutchess County Division of Veteran Services Director Adam Roche to share his military experiences and his response to recent events. Having served in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the Embassy in 2003 and as Sergeant of the Guard in 2004, Roche described the events as heartbreaking.

“What we’re seeing, it’s sick on a humanitarian level,” he said. “It’s not right and the way we did it is not right. You know the promises that we made to the Afghan civilians that pretty much risked their lives to be just a gate guard over at the Embassy, to be an interpreter… We owe it to them to make sure that they get the right of passage too and live that American Dream that they love.”

Molinaro asked Roche what the reason for the mission in Afghanistan was in the midst of the men and women on the ground, to which Roche said it was to try to make a better life for civilians.

As veterans at the forum spoke up about their experiences on the ground, Molinaro encouraged them to share their perspective on the events in Afghanistan as well as what they’ve heard from other veterans.

Having served in the U.S. Military security forces for more than 30 years, Anthony Kavouras from MHA of Dutchess County said he’s seen the ups and downs of the military and believes “we’re going to get through this.” 

VET-TAP Program Manager Tyler Mendelson shared how his entire life was gearing up to his deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 and attributed the day he decided to join the marines to 9/11.

“I always grew up with this mindset of deploying to a war zone and fighting for my country,” Mendelson said, “and I needed to know that we were doing the right thing and trying to make a difference with defeating terrorism and trying to make the country a better place so that America would be safer, but also that Afghanistan would be safer for those civilians who lived there, especially under the strict rule of the Taliban.”

Seeing how quickly things have deteriorated abroad, Mendelson said, “It really hits hard to see how much of the work that we put in just felt like it fell within a matter of days and hours.”

Throughout the evening, questions covered whether there was a number people could dial to volunteer for county veterans programs; the number of veterans in Dutchess County; benefits for Korean War veterans; finding access to wheelchairs and Meals on Wheels for veterans; and other related topics. 

The forum also offered an insight into services and resources currently available to veterans throughout Dutchess County.

A recording of the Veterans Telephone Town Hall forum can now be found online under the “Dutchess County” YouTube channel.

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