Some images from last year's event: 1) Will Johnson sings the National Anthem at the opening ceremony
2) and 3) Part of the parade in front of Old Main. This year's parade route has changed.
4) Re-enactors enjoy a conversation.
The Iraq and Afghanistan outreach team at the Milwaukee VA is partnering with Reclaiming Our Heritage this year with a special “Welcome Home” tent for those Veterans.
Reclaiming Our Heritage, a two-day military encampment with military re-enactors, parade, displays, food vendors and more takes place June 2 and 3 on the Milwaukee VA campus.
Though current military units have marched in the parade at the annual military encampment, this is the first time it will feature displays, stories and photos from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Laura Rinaldi, one of the main organizer’s of the event, said there were already plans to include a display area for the current conflicts, so it was a perfect fit when the VA asked to partner for the “Welcome Home” event.
The Iraq and Afghanistan outreach team has held different events each of the last five years for official “Welcome Home” events to tell Veterans about VA benefits and encourage people to sign up for healthcare.
“It’s a perfect fit because that is what we are all about,” Rinaldi said.
There will be one main welcome tent area for all visitors, and a separate one for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and their family members with a separate hospitality area for them to relax and some games for children. In addition, Friends of Reclaiming Our Heritage will provide lunch for every Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran and immediate family member.
There will be trinkets and other handouts for family members, as well as games for children. Some of the door prizes include iTunes cards, movie passes to Marcus Theaters, tickets to the Milwaukee Bucks and Irish Fest, and restaurant certificates to La Fuente, Milwaukee Brat House, Comet Cafe, and Honeypie Cafe.
"That's just the tip of the iceberg with door prizes," said Patricia Lynch, one of the lead organizers. "We also have some T-shirts only a Marine could love. Believe me, my mother wants them out of the house."
Every Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran will receive the book, “Tears of a Warrior: A Family’s Story of Combat and Living with PTSD.” Outreach team members, many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be on hand to talk with visitors and all Veterans, and help process any paperwork if someone wishes to sign up for VA healthcare and other benefits.
“This is just one way where we can integrate the larger (Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran) population with the overall Veteran population,” said Delon Powell, an Iraq Veteran and member of the outreach team. “In some cases, those older Veterans will be able to provide information and insider tips that will help them, and help them on the path to recovery if they need it.
“Our healthcare and outreach has gotten so much better since Vietnam, but younger Veterans might hear some of those stories, or not get correct information from their own units,” Powell added. “We just want them to come out, check things out and make their own decisions. If they don’t want to sign up for healthcare, that’s fine. No one is going to force them. If they want to check it out, and still go elsewhere, that’s fine, too. We’d like people to see what we offer.”
Fellow Veteran Mindy Mingerink, who also served in Iraq and works at the Milwaukee VA, said when Veterans of different eras meet up, they can share similarities and differences of going to combat.
“Some things never change, and some things are a lot different now than they were in Vietnam or other wars, but a lot of the experiences are the same,” she said. “One good thing about having those us there who have been (in the recent conflicts) is we understand what people went through. They don’t have to take the time to explain things. They aren’t talking to someone who hasn’t been over there and doesn’t understand.”
Rinaldi said that’s why this is a perfect fit for Reclaiming Our Heritage.
“A few years ago when we specially recognized the Vietnam Veterans, it was very important for them, and many of them came to the VA for care after that. They appreciated the recognition and felt free to share their stories. We hope today’s Veterans get those same opportunities and realize they are among friends here.”
To find a complete list of events, tour information, how to volunteer and more, click here .
For more on Reclaiming our Heritage 2012, click here.
For more on Reclaiming our Heritage 2011, click here.
Story by Gary J. Kunich