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Friday, May 6, 2016

Local Veteran Center plan rolling

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Two funerals for area veterans before their time were two too many, inspiring local Patriot Rider Gary Emery to convert his former business location in Alta into a Veterans Center to provide a place of their own for vets and information for the help they may need.
A couple of weeks ago, Gary "Wildman" Emery was attending the funeral of a former soldier.

"The young man had taken his own life - he had more demons from his time in military service than he could deal with," he said.

It was the second time in four months that the local Patriot Guard group he rides with had responded to memorials of veterans who had committed suicide.

"I couldn't help but start thinking - Is the system failing these guys, or what?"

At the same time, he learned of a veteran on the West Coast who has come through troubles of his own after service in Iraq, and had created a Veterans Center to try to help others.

Emery didn't have a degree in therapy or counseling, but he and his wife Debbie have something perhaps more important... space.

They had operated a store with motorcyclist gear on Main Street in Alta, and after closing in 2012, hadn't been able to sell or rent the space.

"It has just been sitting there since it closed. The one thing we really needed to do a veterans center was a location to do it in," Emery said.

The Army veteran, who is heavily involved with veterans organizations in the area, isn't looking to provide therapy.

"I just want to have a place where these guys and gals can go. If they want to talk to other veterans who will understand what they are going through, we'll talk. If they just want to hang out, that's fine too. If they need a certain type of help that we can't give, we will try to point them in the right direction and follow up to make sure they have gotten the information they need."

As word of his plan begins to circulate, a foosball table has already been donated, and he's working to obtain a pool table. He hopes to find a ping pong table, air hockey set and a table where veterans can play cards, along with other furnishings.

"We will be taking donations to help pay the utilities and so on. We don't want to make money doing this - I figure we have a building sitting here now that's not doing anyone any good, we might as well use it to do something positive for the community."

Tim Schroeder, local American Legion commander, hopes to help out at the site.

No hours or opening date have yet been set, but Emery foresees being available nights and weekends and if special needs arise. He would like to have the doors open within a month.

It's a kind of place he would have liked to see when he got out of the Army.

"One thing is that a lot of our guys here are National Guard veterans. I'm not saying their training was not adequate, but it's not like the fulltime military where you spend all day every day training and preparing. They are basically taking guys off the street, throwing them into a war zone for a year, and when they come back, they are handed some pamphlets and told to step right back into their civilian lives. There's no wind-down time, and that can be difficult for people sometimes."

Emery said he is not just targeting recent veterans of the war on terrorism - everyone would be welcome, regardless of era of service or branch of the military. He said he believes some of the area's veterans of Vietnam have lingering issues and may benefit from having a place to go where they can be discussed.

While the military and government operate programs, Emery says they are faced with overwhelming numbers and some veterans in need of help or information are falling through the cracks.

"I just want them to know there's a place where someone will care about them, someone will listen to them, and someone will be their friend. If I can't help them, I have a lot of ties to the various organizations, and if I can point them to someone who will help, I will. If it turns into something, great."

The center will also offer brochures and literature on for all of the available services from the Veterans Administration, American Legion, VFW and other programs. Emery especially wants to gather resources to help those who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gary and Debbie are still tossing around ideas for a name for the center, looking for something that isn't in use anywhere else.

As he begins the project, the lost young area soldier is never far from his mind. "I believe the system has failed veterans like this. No one can say what might have happened, but I wonder if things could have been different, if someone like me had an hour to sit down with that young guy and talk it over," Emery says. "I am not claiming to be a therapist , but I am someone who has been there and know what they are feeling . I want to do my part to see that not another veteran decides that ending their life is better than living."

* Editor's Note: Anyone who would like to be involved, or who needs additional information, may contact Gary Emery at 712-730-2712 or email firefighter200463@hotmail.com.

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