Vets helping soldiers: It’s two-way healing

By Bryan Richardson

It’s said that a dog is a man’s best friend. Don “Bulldog” Behrens, chairman of the Kansas American Legion Riders, is a soldier’s best friend.

On Saturday, the American Legion distributed 500 turkeys with side dishes to soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion for the Thanksgiving holidays.

The battalion is a unit designed to assist ill and injured soldiers in their recovery as they return to their Army unit or make the transition into civilian life.

The Kansas American Legion Riders started the program, which is now in its fifth year. The Legion works year-round to secure the donations and finances to make the event possible.

“This is the highlight of my year coming out here to do this,” said Bill Ryan of the Kansas America Legion Riders.

About 60 to 70 Legion members handed out food, helped soldiers take food back to their cars and thanked them for their service.

Behrens said 30 families were served in the first year and 250 last year. The organization served 500 families this year and hopes to increase that to 1,000 next year.

Behrens didn’t characterize the event as a handout for the veterans but rather as a way to show thanks. “What it’s about is us seeing them and them seeing us,” he said. “The meal is secondary.”

Behrens said he understands what the family of an injured veteran goes through because his father was injured in Korea. “The families and the children are going through as much hell as what the soldiers are,” he said.

Behrens said he knows soldiers need support, something he didn’t fully experience after returning from the Vietnam War.

“We came back to some pretty nasty times,” Behrens said. “We just don’t want that to happen. We want them to start their healing process many years before we do.”

Behrens said the event is a healing process for all veterans involved,  whether giving or receiving. “Each time that we do this, I heal more,” he said. “This is what a veteran service organization is for. The whole reason for it is that we take care of our own.”

The soldiers, many who came with their families, thanked the American Legion for their support through the gift of food.

SPC Lewis Ford, who joined the battalion after an injury in Iraq, said he appreciated the American Legion providing for the soldier. “It’s nice to know we’re being looked after and not forgotten about on the holidays,” he said.

Reese Flory, who joined the battalion after being injured in Afghanistan, also expressed appreciation. “I just think these folks are very generous and what they’re doing is a really awesome deal,” he said.

Flory said he’s two weeks away from rejoining his fellow soldiers in the 1st Infantry Division Band. He said he’s thankful to be with his family for Thanksgiving. “My thoughts are with the guys overseas who aren’t able to be here for the holidays,” he said.

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