By James Niedzinski
---- — GLOUCESTER — Veterans returning home have survived the horrors and brutality of war but often face even more complex social challenges when they integrate back into society.
The newly formed Global War on Terror Veterans Coalition aims to address and overcome some of those challenges, namely the high suicide and unemployment rates among young soldiers returning home.
For many, civilian life can be a difficult change after serving a tour of duty overseas, said Army Cpl. Sebastian Mutchler.
Mutchler, of Gloucester, served in the Army and has seen two active duty deployments, having first seen combat in Afghanistan in 2008. Now, he’s also working with Richard Barbato, the Gloucester veterans agent in the Office of Veterans Services for Gloucester to form the new coalition. And the organization is set to host an open house and services program this Saturday at the city’s Office of Veterans Services at 12 Emerson Ave., beginning at 10 a.m.
Mark Nestor, a member of several local veteran affairs groups and a Vietnam veteran, said the aim is to support veterans by showing them their options — something Vietnam veterans did not have enough access to when they arrived back home, he recalled.
“This coalition is by veterans, for veterans,” Nestor said.
Barbato added that employment and education aspects are the key issues the coalition helps to address. He said veterans returning home need to know there are others here to support them and there are a number of options in front of them.
Scheduled to participate in Saturday’s event are representatives from Salem State University, North Shore Community College, the Lowell regional veterans center, the state Department of Veterans Service, a local veterans employment representative from Lynn as well as other veteran advocates.
While the coalition is still in its early stages, Barbato said those involved hope to help out in anyway they can.
“We want to hear all concerns and problems any veteran has,” he said.
According to Mutchler, there is a core group of 500 to 600 veterans who have served in a recent war throughout Cape Ann and about 6,000 veterans of older conflicts living in Gloucester and across Cape Ann’s three towns.
While the coalition does not exclude anyone, the focus is to serve veterans of wars and conflicts throughout the 1980s such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Grenada, as well as veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Barbato said. He noted that older veterans from World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War have all been very supportive, acting as mentors to new veterans as well.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jeremiah Stokes served overseas from 2005 to 2009, but went back in 2009; he said he initially found civilian life to hard to acclimate to once he returned. He briefly worked two full-time jobs while he was home, as a security guard at a bus transit station in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., and for United Parcel Service.
“It (the military) was the only place I found any sort of connection,” he said.
He returned in February 2012 and is now attending Salem State University, majoring in business administration with a minor in criminal justice. He commutes to and from there to Gloucester, and praises the school’s acceptance of and outreach toward veterans.
“They have a huge veteran affairs organization there, they have all been very supportive,” he said.
He also works a security guard at the Peabody Essex museum in Salem while a full-time student, joking that there always seems to be a supply of security guard jobs for returning veterans.
He moved to area after serving with and befriending Adam Curcuru, the Gloucester native who was recently awarded the Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.