After taking a year off because of the pandemic, the Vets Town Halls are back.

The Rutland event is at 1 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Godnick Center. The Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington will host one on Sept. 19.

The town halls began a few years ago as a way to let veterans share what their experiences in military service have meant to them with those who didn’t join the military, said Kyle Aines, organizer for the Rutland event.

Aines is also the associate director of veterans services at the Community College of Vermont, which supported the town halls. He served eight years total in the Army, completing two tours in Iraq. He’s working on lining up speakers for the Rutland event, but any veteran is allowed to speak.

“We don’t want it to be political, we don’t want to go into story mode, either, necessarily,” he said. “But we’re not censoring either. They can talk about whatever they want in relation to their military experience, and that’s really what we want to get out of it.”

The first Vets Town Hall was a few years ago in Burlington. The next year, Rutland was added. Other locations for the town halls have popped up, Aines said, but having it grow year-to-year isn’t the goal. That said, the organizers would like to see some town halls in southern Vermont at some point. Aines said the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington was considered for this year, but given the risks posed by the pandemic it was decided to hold off on that locale. Still, Aines said the home would be a good place for an event in the future, as the veterans there can’t all travel.

A town hall event was held before the pandemic in St. Johnsbury. This year, one was held in Newport. Marty McMahon, who served in the Air Force from 1969 to 1972, facilitated both. He also worked for CCV’s veterans department until recently.

“We had some really good conversations. We had quite a range of people from different eras. We had somebody whose brother served in World War II, he was in right after that. We had people who were serving during the Cold War, people from Vietnam, people from the current war era,” said McMahon.

Veterans have been talking about a wide range of things at these forums, he said.

“The goal is just for them to express what this was like and what it meant for them,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll describe an incident that had a profound impact on them. Sometimes they’ll just talk about the pride in serving. Sometimes they’ll talk about changes that happened to them while they were in all gung-ho, and then coming out wondering what really was the purpose of what they were serving. We hear a lot of that from Vietnam people.”

Giving non-veterans and non-service members a better understanding of what service is like is the goal of the town halls and they seem to be having some impact, said McMahon, though it’s hard to say for sure. At the last event, two people told him they had veteran friends, but hadn’t quite understood what they’d been through.

“One said she didn’t realize there’s a network of people helping veterans and she asked me to put her in touch with some people to help one of her friends having a difficult time,” said McMahon.

Author Sebastian Junger is credited with starting the Vets Town Halls. People can visit vtvetstownhall.org for more information.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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