Main Street Salutes Our Veterans

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For more than eight years, through a Main Street project called the Army-Community Heritage Partnership Program (A-CHPP), I’ve been delivering downtown revitalization services to 11 Army-Community sites across the country. The A-CHPP seeks to build stronger connections between Army installations and adjoining downtown commercial districts. A partnership team composed of volunteers from both the community and the installation is developed at each Army-Community site to work on ways to improve marketing and communications channels; enhance visual and physical linkages between the post and the downtown; encourage the kinds of businesses, services, arts and entertainment attractions the Army family wants; and identify shared cultural heritage and historic assets to increase the potential for tourism. The ultimate goal is to create a more economically viable downtown district that responds to the needs of the broad-based Army family.

One of the most satisfying experiences coming out of my work with A-CHPP is seeing partnerships and relationships develop between installation and community volunteers. My understanding and appreciation for the Army family and the value of what they bring to our nation has grown substantially. Most of all, I am personally grateful for friends I have made across the country within the Army family. They are a welcoming lot!

As Veterans Day approaches, I decided to contact three on-site A-CHPP volunteer coordinators to see what might be planned in their respective communities to commemorate the holiday.

Veterans Day Girls & Flag HinesvilleMy first call was to Vicki Davis, who is the executive director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority (HDDA). Vicki was the A-CHPP community coordinator for Fort Stewart-Hinesville, Georgia, during the three years I worked with the site. I felt very fortunate to have Vicki in charge of Hinesville’s A-CHPP efforts because she brought so much to the position. During her husband’s active military career, Vicki and her family were stationed twice at Fort Stewart. When her husband retired from the military, the family left their home in Iowa and came back to Hinesville where Vicki assumed the HDDA position. The additional interesting aspect is that before their return, Vicki worked in Iowa as the executive director of the West Des Moines Main Street program.

When I reached her, Vicki told me that there was going to be a major Veterans Day parade in downtown Hinesville on November 6th to honor veterans. This year it was a particularly significant event because more than 4,000 troops have just returned to Fort Stewart after completing their one-year deployment. Vicki said that Veterans Day parades had been commonplace in downtown Hinesville years ago, but then they stopped. The tradition returned last year, spurred on by a Veterans group and A-CHPP’s emphasis on strengthening the connection between the Army post and Hinesville’s downtown.

Veterans Day Fort Knox ParadeI next called Diane Mattingly, who is a Training Officer with the Foreign Area Officer Branch of the Human Resources Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Diane has done a wonderful job serving as the Army coordinator for the Fort Knox-Elizabethtown A-CHPP. Diane tells me that Hardin County (where Elizabethtown is located) was planning its 12th Annual Hardin County Veterans Day Celebration, also on November 6th. Events included a parade and a ceremony in the park to honor veterans.     

Lorna Hanes is a community planner with Fort Polk, Louisiana. Lorna is serving as the Army coordinator for the A-CHPP in Fort Polk-Leesville. Lorna’s husband is in the National Guard and is presently serving in Iraq. Lorna said that two events are scheduled to commemorate Veterans Day. The event at Fort Polk will include speeches, laying down of wreaths, and a 21-gun salute. In downtown Leesville, the VFW will conduct a ceremony in Veterans Park. And in a side event, Cub Scouts from the community will go to nursing homes in the area to visit with veterans living in those establishments.

When I first started the A-CHPP project eight years ago, I had no connection with military families. My father was well out of the Navy before I was born and, apart from his service, there weren’t any close relatives or friends associated with the military. So I’ve been very thankful for the opportunity to get to know the Army family better through A-CHPP. The military-related volunteers that came into the process represented a broad spectrum of the Army family - active military, civilian workers, retirees, and their family members. They were a joy to work with. Those Army volunteers were disciplined, sophisticated, well traveled, open to making friends, task oriented, and respectful. Work planning and strategizing are not foreign topics to these folks. How often have I wished to clone these individuals and move them onto Main Street boards and committees.

This Veterans Day, I’m going to take some time out to think about my good fortune in being involved in a program that has given me an introduction to a way of life and a culture I knew little about and that has provided me with so many friends within the Army family.