Army Maj. Sherri L. Sharpe discussed “Military After War” — including various challenges facing veterans and their families, and the downsizing of the military — at American Legion Homer Dillard Post 78’s Veterans Day banquet Saturday night.
Sharpe, originally from Martinsville, was the keynote speaker at the banquet at the Horsepasture District Volunteer Fire Department. An estimated 300 people attended.
Sharpe talked about the challenges of veterans returning home after deployment and reintegrating into their families. Are they injured? Have they changed? Have their families changed? Are their roles different? she asked.
She talked about the downsizing of the military now that the war in Iraq is over and the end of the war in Afghanistan is in sight. For instance, she said, the Army plans to cut troops by 80,000 — from 570,000 to 490,000 — by 2017. Attrition will take care of part of that, but also tougher retention guidelines will result in some soldiers being asked to leave who, in the past, might have been asked to stay on, she said.
How will veterans re-entering the civilian work force adapt in an economy in which the national unemployment rate was 7.3 percent (in October)? Sharpe asked.
In addition to a shortage of jobs in the United States, she mentioned the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ backlog of hundreds of thousands of claims.
The federal budget crises and sequestration add to the problems, she said.
“It’s sometimes hard (for veterans) to feel loyal ... ,” she said.
“Veterans organizations have never been so critical,” Sharpe said, adding that veterans such as members of the American Legion know the challenges of having served and adjusting when they returned home.
She challenged the American Legion to reach out to help veterans. “Now more than ever they need your help to find their way back home,” she said.
Sharpe began her remarks by thanking the American Legion veterans for having fought for America’s freedoms, and she told the history of Armistice Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Sharpe is the daughter of Doug Sharpe and Patricia Handy, both of Martinsville. She graduated from Martinsville High School in 1995.
She entered the Army as a Distinguished Military Graduate in May 1999 through the Reserve Officer Training Program at the Virginia Military Institute, where she was a part of the pioneer class of the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin College, according to the banquet program. She completed the CH-47D Chinook Aircraft Qualification Course in 2000.
She served in Operation Enduring Freedom I from December 2001 until August 2002 in Pakistan and in various posts in Afghanistan; Operation Iraqi Freedom I from February 2003 until July 2003; Operation Iraqi Freedom 5 from November 2005 through November 2006; and Operation New Dawn in Kuwait from February 2011 until February 2012, according to the banquet program.
Her awards and decorations include: the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, the Meritorius Unit Citation, the Senior Aviators Badge and the Airborne Badge, according to the banquet program.
She is stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., she said.
The post presented her with a certificate, plaque and bouquet of red roses.
Also at the banquet, John Hairston of Axton, a 91-year-old World War II veteran and member of Post 78, was presented his World War II medals and dog tags.
Banquet master of ceremonies Daniel Spencer, first vice commander of Post 78, said: “We had a special request from the family of John W. Hairston ... and that request was to see if we could get his World War II medals. It took a few months, but we were able to obtain them....”
Hairston was drafted on Dec. 19, 1942, and discharged Nov. 15, 1946. He was stationed in the Pacific on the island of New Guinea from Nov. 1, 1943, until March 4, 1996, and upon his discharge was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one battle star, the World War II Victory Medal and the American Theater Campaign Medal, Spencer said.
Also at the banquet, a plaque was unveiled with names of 47 deceased members of Post 78.
In addition, William Walker, 94, received a gift for being the oldest veteran present. It was announced that he wants to join the post.
Among other items on the program: Martinsville and Henry County color guards posted the colors; Georgia Ramey sang the national anthem and other songs; Sergeant at Arms Harry Holland led a POW/MIA remembrance ceremony; Rev. Eugene Reynolds, pastor of Meadow Christian Church, gave the welcome; and Elder Kennedy Williams of Alpha Faith Temple Church led a prayer and blessing of meal.
Curtis Millner Sr., post adjutant, played a melody of service songs and veterans stood up or raised their hands when their service song was played. Marvin Norman recognized special guests, including Henry County Supervisors Jim Adams and Debra Buchanan, among others. President Marie Hairston recognized the ladies auxiliary.
Post Commander Sonny Richardson made remarks and led an awards ceremony. Robert Spencer, third vice commander, recognized Vietnam veterans. Elder Kennedy Williams led a memorial service. Post Chaplain Richard Stockton gave the benediction.