U.S. Military serviceman Adam Schnettler said he couldn’t walk through Central Lakes College (CLC) in uniform Wednesday night without someone reaching out to say “Thanks” and asking how they could help.
Enlisting in 2007 and spending 10 months of deployment in Iraq, Schnettler — living in St. Cloud and in the area participating in Active Training at Fort Ripley — is currently unemployed, but hopes all of that will change following CLC’s Celebrate Veterans Career Exploration Event — exactly what CLC, the community, Veterans Administration and military organizations were focused on achieving.
“This is the first event in the state of Minnesota that brought together the college, businesses, the community and service providers for veterans that encompassed the entire theme of looking at careers, exploring those careers, educational experiences and training,” said Pam Thomsen, director of resource development and the CLC foundation who worked on the committee planning Wednesday’s event. “The idea spurred on the big wave of vets coming back in April and that’s when we (the committee) thought, ‘What can we do to support these vets in a real effective way?’
“So that is really what tonight is all about.”
The event both honored and welcomed veterans back home and linked them with career and education opportunities in an effort to help the returning soldiers become acclimated to civilian life once again.
“For these folks (veterans), their lives are defined by before the war, during the war and after the war,” said CLC President Dr. Larry Lundblad during the celebration program of the career exploration event in the Chalberg Theatre. “We owe these vets so much for their sacrifice and continued sacrifices that they face today.”
Opening the event was Sgt. First Class Kathy Marshik welcoming the Presentation of Colors by the Brainerd VFW and AMVETS Post 53, followed by the National Anthem sung to the standing crowd by retired Sgt. Marshall Tousignant — who is also a current student at CLC — and a special veteran honor song from the Little Otter Drum Group of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
First to speak to the audience of more than 80 in attendance was retired Maj. Gen. Rick Erlandson.
“The challenges faced today (returning home) are like the challenges faced with deployment,” said Erlandson. “Soldiers seeking opportunity in a struggling economy creates struggles of its own...But I am confident you (veterans) will succeed. Attack these challenges with the same professionalism and commitment as you did when you deployed.”
Next to speak was Spc. Daniel Ferrian, a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard and a full-time student at CLC.
“I volunteered to go to Iraq,” said Ferrian. “During that time my wife and I bought a house — a house that I had never seen and didn’t know what I was coming home to — using the Veterans Assistance (VA) home loan. Also during that time (on deployment) I continued my education and earned my associate arts degree in Iraq.
“Deployment started out really good, but then I was forced to come home on emergency leave because my wife attempted to commit suicide.
“Even now, I didn’t come home to a job. It was tough. It was hard. But now I am going to school here (at CLC) for practical nursing, collecting unemployment and working to adjust and continue to succeed. I would not be that successful if it wasn’t for CLC and the VA and other great services that are here to help tonight.”
The third and final speaker of the program was Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., who had 24 years of service in the Navy and earning the rank of captain.
“I want to start by thanking and commending CLC,” said Cravaack. “What this institution is doing here tonight and what this community is doing here is remarkable...These vets are facing an economy that is struggling to produce jobs and an economy that is not growing fast enough for those who want jobs, especially our vets.
“But here tonight, is a great example of how a community is showing its appreciation as they (veterans) return home. They need our support. They were there for us, now we need to be there for them.”
Cravaack added that for those veterans who continue to struggle, another career exploration opportunity is in the works from 4-7 p.m. on Aug. 7 at the Crow Wing Community Services Building.
But Schnettler said with all the opportunity before him tonight, he hopes it won’t be that long.
“This (Brainerd) community has been amazing in putting this event together,” he said with a smile. “I think I am going to go down, grab some information from the VA and see if I can move up here because the opportunities and willingness to help are just great.”