Prouty Beach Event Aims To Give Voice To Veterans

This file photo from June 14, 2021 shows Thom Anderson, associate academic dean at Northern Vermont University and organizer of the annual Veterans Summit, left, and Army veteran Harry Swett, of Danville, locking hands during the summit on the Lyndon campus. Another veterans event is happening in Newport on Sunday, July 18. (Photo by Dana Gray)

Area military veterans are invited to speak at a Vermont Veterans Town Hall event Sunday at Prouty Beach in Newport.

Everyone else is encouraged to go and listen.

It will be the first time a Veterans Town Hall event will be held in the Northeast Kingdom. A total of four events will be held in Vermont this year. One happened in June at Camp Meade in Middlesex, and two others will follow the Newport event: Aug. 8 at the Godnick Center in Rutland and Sept. 19 at Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington.

Author Sebastian Junger created the Vets Town Halls to increase communication and understanding between veterans and civilians in their communities. Vermont’s first event was in November 2017 in Burlington. The events have continued annually with a break in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Veterans are invited to stand before fellow community members and speak for up to 10 minutes about what it was like to serve their country.

“These events are non-political, and all perspectives are valued,” noted Kristen Eaton, VT Veterans Town Hall organizer.

Marty McMahon, a former medic in the Air Force, will serve as host at the event in Newport. It will begin at 1 p.m. and be held beneath the pavilion at Prouty Beach.

“We often hear about veterans, but we very rarely get to hear from them, to hear their own voices talking about their experience,” said McMahon. “We can’t have a real dialogue with veterans until we take the time to listen with no judgment.”

Eaton said she has been working with VFW Post 798 in Newport to increase awareness of the event.

“While only veterans will speak, all community members are encouraged to attend and listen, so the hope is really to reach the community at large as well as veterans specifically,” she said in an email.

There is no charge for admission, and the town hall will take place even if there is rain because the pavilion will provide shelter. If there is a significant storm, the event will be rescheduled to July 25.

Veterans who would like to speak can register at vtvetstownhall.org. Veterans are also welcome to sign up to speak during the event. Questions may be directed to Eaton at vtvetstownhall@gmail.com.

Kyle Aines, who will host the Veterans Town Hall in Rutland next month, said it is important for non-veterans to attend the events for a better perspective on veterans’ perspectives and concerns.

“Support of our military does not start with a ‘support the troops’ bumper sticker and culminate with grilled chicken on Memorial Day weekend,” said Aines, CCV’s Associate Director of Veterans and Military Services. “As military members struggle to reintegrate back into society, it is imperative that society have a clear understanding what they are transitioning from. The Vets Town Hall is that bridge and connection.”

Eaton said being a non-veteran herself she has appreciated hearing from veterans at the events.

“So much of our communication now (as a society) is through sound bites and clever posts on social media. It’s a very different thing - and much more heartening, I’ve found - to sit in person and listen to folks talk for ten minutes at a time about their own experiences,” she said.

For those veterans who may want to speak but are unsure what to share, information from the Vermont Vets Town Halls website offers some suggestions.

• During your military service, what surprised you most about yourself?

• Why did you join?

• What was your hardest day?

• What do you miss?

• Tell us about some of the items, both practical and personal, that you carried with you while on deployment.

• How did you stay in touch with family and friends back home?

• How does your time in the military affect your daily life today?

• When did you leave the military? What was that process like?

• What or who has helped you in the transition from military to civilian life? What has been challenging or surprising about that transition?

• What questions do you wish civilians would ask when they learn that you’re a vet?

More About Newport Host Marty McMahon

After his time in the Air Force, McMahon, of Worcester, Vt., returned to academics, studying literature, language, and rhetoric, receiving an MA and an MLitt from Middlebury College. He’s been a high school teacher, a chimney sweep, and a field technician in alternative energy (including working as a contractor and crew chief on the Navy TACTS program, installing wind and solar systems on their off-shore platforms).

He has taught at CCV, Vermont College, and Norwich. For five years at CCV he served as a Veteran & Military Resource Advisor while also facilitating Veteran Reading Group for the Vermont Humanities Council.

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