Camp Meade will host a town hall for veterans of any era who served in any capacity on June 27 in Middlesex. The event gets underway at 1p.m.
Veterans are welcome to attend and speak or attend and listen. The public is invited to attend and listen. Veterans who do want to speak will be invited to speak for up to 10 minutes about their experiences in the service.
"For many veterans, it may be difficult to speak of their experience out of concern of judgment or misrepresentation," said Jon Turner, Brattleboro, event host and an outings leader for the Sierra Club Military Outdoors. "Having an opportunity to gather with community members assists with the reintegration process and makes it possible for us to move beyond a narrative of conflict by honoring and sharing our stories. Attending these gatherings is a reminder of the community we wish to embrace after military service."
Vets Town Halls were originated by author Sebastian Junger (War, Tribe) with the aim of increasing communication and understanding between veterans and civilians in their communities. The first event of this kind in Vermont was a November 2017 Burlington town hall spearheaded by local event coordinator Kristen Eaton with support from many individuals and organizations. The events have continued annually with a break in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Eaton said that she finds participants for the events by using local media, word of mouth and other methods. She reaches out to a variety of state veterans’ groups and the VA as well.
At these town halls, she stressed that it takes courage for vets to stand up and speak and that it requires respect for the public to bear witness and listen.
“We do invite media, but press are asked to check and double check with speakers to make sure they’re comfortable with what they said being on the record. It’s not a scripted or rehearsed event. It’s a storytelling event. Some folks are sharing things they didn’t expect to share,” Eaton said.
“The goal is to increase understanding between vets and civilians in the community,” she added.
On the day of the event, preregistered speakers will speaker for up to 10 minutes and then those in the audience are invited to speak if time allows. After that, the moderator, Turner, will conduct a short Q and A with some of the participants.
Eaton said that participants share stories of combat, of loss, of camaraderie and lessons learned.
“There are stories about coming back and integrating into society and stories about what has helped and what things have been challenges. I’m always surprised and floored by how courageous and generous the speakers are and also how nuanced the things that are shared are. Over and over again I’m impressed when folks get up and talk about difficult and controversial topics in humane and in-depth ways that give attendees a much more nuanced understanding of these topics,” she continued.
Eaton said that it is important for non-vets to show up in person and listen.
“I think it is important that attendees, non-vets, make the effort. The speakers are being very brave and courageous when they tell their stories,” Eaton added.
Russ Bennett, one of the three partners in Planetary Matters which owns Camp Meade, said that this type of event is in keeping with the mission of what he and his partners want to accomplish at Camp Meade: bringing people together for all kinds of reasons.