Two Leitchfield veterans are preparing to be part of an unprecedented six-man civilian team to go into an active duty “hot zone” to lend support to troops.
Anthony Noe and Jim Lish, of local American Legion Post 81, will be heading into the heart of the action in Djibouti, Africa along with the state’s most highly-decorated Guard Unit, the 2nd/138th Battalion Charlie Battery in late March. The veteran group will be known as the 1st Legion Overseas Deployment Team.
“This is the first time ever in US history that a veterans civilian team will go into a combat zone to support our troops,” Noe said.
The group’s members have been dedicated to helping soldiers returning from active duty to successfully adjust back into civilian life and to make the most of their benefits and the opportunities available to them. Team leader Dr. Peter Trzop, Commander of Bardstown’s American Legion Post 121, had the idea more than a year ago to not only assist these soldiers once they return, but to begin that relationship before they get back.
“When you serve others, you’ve got to go where they are,” Trzop said in an interview on Monday.
The Deployment Team will be providing “VA benefit support, medical, membership and other vital services to the troops,” according to a press release by Trzop. They will also be providing care packages, and team member Pam Blain, of Post 157, will be practicing licensed massage therapy to help soldiers de-stress.
Noe, who saw active duty in the late 80’s and early 90’s, explained that the high suicide rates among veterans are a serious concern. He also said that depression and violence, among other things, can be issues for returning soldiers.
“They’re teaching them how to turn it on, but when they come back, nobody’s teaching them how to turn it off,” he said.
Noe will be focusing on teaching soldiers about VA benefits and Legion membership during the upcoming deployment, and hopes that projects such as this one can help form relationships that will assist soldiers in more easily making the transition once they return to the states.
Trzop said that hopefully this project will open doors when these soldiers return and can say, “‘We know those guys. They were out in the field risking it with us.’”
Noe said that he is thrilled not only that the program is becoming a reality, but that local veterans are leading the way. “For Kentucky to lead the way, let alone two people from Leitchfield, it’s just beyond awesome,” he said.
Noe also expressed his gratitude to local community groups, businesses and individuals who have donated funds to the project. The Deployment Team has had to raise their own funds for airfare, housing, food and incidentals. Each member of the team will need around $3,000 to cover these costs, and the group hopes to raise additional funds to put together care packages for the soldiers they will be supporting.
“We want to give a special thanks to Watson and Hunt Funeral Home, Elder Wealth Management, Shain Thompson, Tom Goff, Rebecca Hayse, the Ladies Auxiliary, Sharon and Hayward Roberts, Faye Coomer, Steve Fetty and Carol Duke,” Noe said, “and definitely the VFW - we’re so thankful for them, and they don’t always get recognition.”
Trzop explained that the group has raised approximately $10,000 so far, and have their goal set at $15,000. $2,000 of the funds already raised came from the Falls of Rough VFW, and another $500 from the local Ladies’ Auxiliary Unit 81.
Fundraisers, donations, and “other creative ways to make this mission better for our soldiers,” are greatly encouraged, and according to Trzop, team members are available for fundraising presentations around the state. All funds will go through Kentucky’s American Legion for accountability purposes.
Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the Overseas Deployment Project can download a donation form at www.kylegion.com by scrolling down the page and looking under ‘American Legion Post 121 Overseas Deployment.’
For additional information or to make a donation, you may also contact Anthony Noe at (270) 287-2398 or Jim Lish at (270) 200-0594.