Scott Thompson and 28 other people gathered to discuss what it means to be a veteran and a civilian in Mercy College’s Rotunda on Feb. 20.
The projection screen was down. The day’s event flyer was up. A circle of chairs stood in the room and the smell of coffee from a thermos lathered the air. With combed hair, a clean-shaven face, and his blazer, Scott Thompson introduced himself as a veteran. Straight shooter. After his tour with the Army, Scott began a career working as a psychotherapist with the Mental Health Agency. He kept a calm tone about himself. Knowing the roller-coaster of therapy from self experience, Scott started creating a campaign to open what he calls a “veteran civilian dialogue.” Several ancient cultures had ceremonies for warriors who came back from battle. There was celebration to symbolize a cleansing and purification of the past battle. Modern day wars are fought on different terms and there is still an obligation for the community to welcome and support those who fight. While working as a psychotherapist, Scott met a Vietnam veteran named Larry Winters. Another veteran looking to create a society that focuses on healing returning warriors. Scott reminisces when he met Larry, and Larry said, “I think you have something that can help me in my healing. I think I have something that can help you in your healing.” As Scott stands in an opening of the circle, he smiles quietly. “This is to create communities where civilians and veterans can come together and talk about the impact of war.” How can the burden of battle be transferred to a civilian as someone who has never witnessed war? And as a civilian, haven’t we all been affected by war as well? How can talking about this go anywhere? As the room became quiet Scott, asked two questions. “How many people in this room have served in one of America’s military branches?” Eleven people stood up. Older guys. Bald guys. Men in suits. Men in jeans and boots. People that were sitting side by side. Some were students at Mercy College. The latter question was, “How many people have family or know someone who has served in the military?” The whole room was standing now. A smorgasbord of faces. It was still very quiet. Treading to the center of the circle Scott now dropped a plastic plate. “Consider this plate to be the definition of a veteran. As you relate yourself to veteran, stand in relation to the plate. Now, look around you and talk with the people closest to you as to why you are standing there.” The room started purring like an engine. Professors, therapists, recruiters, Vietnam veterans, Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, and students were all talking about the word veteran and what it means to be a veteran. There was a Vietnam veteran who first identified himself as a vet only five years ago. It wasn’t as well received by society to be a military veteran in the 1970s. “Now, consider that plate to be the definition of a civilian. Where do you stand?” The plate became a magnet and everyone drew in close to the center of the circle. Soldiers who were hardened by war were now sharing openly about the experience of fighting a war. As the war stories unfolded, the armor started falling off of these warriors. One of the younger veterans, John Ferrara, was the first to share. “I was on tour for two years and I saw my best friend die in front of me,” said John. John is tall like a street-sign. He lets his hair grow out like a forsythia plant. He has a red beard on his face that illuminates as he walks. His Timberland boots are covered by the cuffs of his jeans. John is a student at Mercy College. This event is allowing our students like John Ferrara to create a conversation on the main concerns of war. “I’m glad you have the GI Bill which supports education, but where is the support for my wife and kids? Where is the support for the family?” This was a question posed by Gerard D. Matthew, a veteran who attended the day’s event. Doesn’t war affect the civilians of the countries in conflict? Does war mold the morale of a country? How was it possible for a government to draft its young generation into a branch of military? America has been at war 216 years out of the past 238 years. Conflict is a part of an average American life. Scott Thompson has been affected by war personally and has started a conversation with his fellow Americans. This conversation about the stories we carry is creating a better understanding of what it means to be in conflict. How people associate with being a civilian. A veteran. This talk validates the service of those warriors who have fought for our country. This talk is partnered with the Global Peace Initiative. “Society is all about don’t talk about it,” says Thomas Courtien, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam era. “The important thing about this is that it allows civilians and veterans to talk about the impacts of war.”