By Herb Moering
As might be expected there was a sea of red, white, and blue color in the audience for the Veteran’s Day program at Park Place Estates RV Resort in Harlingen. That was the setting despite park guests not finding adequate patriotic decorations for golf carts and bikes, apparently due to the supply chain problems, that led to cancellation of the traditional parade, according to Connie Teel, activity director for the park.
But the long-running annual program of some 35 years went on as scheduled, but with a twist that featured all women veterans living at Park Place. The main speaker was retired Army medic E-5 Pam Smith, a health care specialist, who served from 2008 to 2013 in the 101st Airborne Air Assault Battalion out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Smith said she doesn’t always do things by the book. She waited until she was 41 before joining the army, which came after her children entered graduate school.
Her medical service included a year’s tour in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Afghan tour in 2010 with a combat engineers unit involved working with members of the Afghan army, its local Border Patrol and hired civilian security forces. Training of the various forces, some of it along the border with Pakistan, also included meeting with Afghan civilians with hope of obtaining intel about planned actions by Al-Qaeda and ISIS forces.
“I enjoyed it a lot, but I also prayed a lot,” Smith said. She laughed in recalling that her medical knowledge must have been creditable, because many of the Afghanis thought she was a doctor and often called her by that title.
Smith, who is an active member of Harlingen VFW Post 2410 and La Feria American Legion Post 4339, hasn’t given up serving the military, is currently working at the Veterans Administration clinic in Harlingen. She first went to work for the VA back in 2015 in Wausau, Wisconsin. She transferred to the Harlingen clinic in 2018 after convincing her husband, Randy, in 2018 they needed to move after 40 inches of snow fell that winter. The Valley was their choice as her parents were Winter Texans.
In her talk, Smith noted, “Military service can be lonely and feel thankless. These heroes and their families experience long separations, celebrations spent apart, uncertain futures and frequent moves that strain and affect all those around them.”
The military is made up of the young, with 75 percent of post 9/11 vets under age 45, Smith said. Unfortunately, some return from deployment with mental, physical, and emotional scars that can have a life-long impact. More than half of veterans experience major barriers in civilian life.
One example is the unemployment rate for vets that was 6.5 percent in 2020. About 200,000 service members are expected to transition to civilian life in the next four years, she said, adding potentially to an adverse situation for them in the job market.
Smith ended her comments with a thank you to the veterans for their sacrifices and selfless service.
Robin Rogers, another veteran read a piece about “The Military Wife,” in tribute to their support part to a veteran husband. She recalled that in the nation’s earliest wars wives often accompanied their husbands to care for them before and after battles.
The activity director emceed the program that started with a recording of planes buzzing overhead provided by guest Jon Riggs. The program included both an opening and closing prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, The National Anthem, the song, “America the Beautiful” and a recognition of veterans from the various branches of the military.
In the audience were five visiting members of the Chapter 856 RGV Vietnam Veterans of America, who hoped to recruit others to join from that era. Their interest is to let other veterans know about military benefits that are available to veterans
A recording of “Taps” concluded the morning, which was followed by a light lunch.