Char-Koosta News

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Once were warriors

Former servicemen and women tell their stories at veterans' retreat

By Lailani Upham

Attendees stand as the flag are prepared to post at “The Summer Retreat – Honoring Veterans and their families” opening on Friday morning. (Lailani Upham photo) Attendees stand as the flag are prepared to post at “The Summer Retreat – Honoring Veterans and their families” opening on Friday morning. (Lailani Upham photo)

BLUE BAY — Once you’re a soldier, marine, airman, and sailor - a warrior - you’re always one.

The theme of stories from veterans life in the military were similar – once you are trained and live by the code of conduct, it is engrained for the rest of your life.

I attended and presented at the “The Summer Retreat – Honoring Veterans and their families” last weekend.

According to Constance Morigeau, CSKT Tribal Social Services Director, it is the last big event for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Social Services Circle of Trust Suicide Prevention program funded by the SAMSA grant to acknowledge veterans and their families – and bring healing and support to old and new veterans.

As for me, after nearly 20 years of being out of the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier, it was instinct kicked in when I saw retired officer Lt. Col. Patricia Camel Kelly in full uniform and my eyes going back to her rank that I was compelled to salute her or be chewed out by a drill sergeant if I passed the task to do so.

Marine veteran James Knapp, who was recently returned home from the military, said he remains combat ready. “I can’t break it, it’s always in my head,” he shared.

Korean War Marine veteran Frances “Plassie” Stanger, Salish-Pend d'Oreille elder addressed the effects of war. (Lailani Upham photo) Korean War Marine veteran Frances “Plassie” Stanger, Salish-Pend d'Oreille elder addressed the effects of war. (Lailani Upham photo)

All three of us agreed the physical training is still etched into our lives and that each of us remain in a P.T. state of staying on top of physical fitness.

Camel Kelly said she left the reservation in the early 70’s and felt she needed something more, “A taste of the world.” And that she got.

As she and many young reservation people, we seek out the opportunity to escape poverty and other trappings that often come with reservation life.

“In our generation mind set, once you leave high school you have to find something. You have to move out at that point,” she shared.

“My mom Alice Nenemay had her hands full,” she added. It led her to the military career life.

Camel Kelly said she decided that after five years in the reserve she would go active duty – and she stayed in for the next 25 years.

A question arose of how she stayed strong and drug free after a couple combat tours. She replied, “I lived in a very hard life, sometimes I think of how it got me where I am,” she stated.

Strength and a positive self-image is what Camel Kelly says her family and the military added to her life.

U.S. Army retired Lt. Col. Patricia Camel Kelly shares stories of military life and career with participants. (Lailani Upham photo) U.S. Army retired Lt. Col. Patricia Camel Kelly shares stories of military life and career with participants. (Lailani Upham photo)

“There was a subject of name calling, growing up; I grew up in a negative time in life. I believe it was a positive self-image my father and mother gave me, and I took it and ran. I made a decision to go the positive way and got an education.” The education increased her confidence; and working as nurse, as time went on, is what helped her self-confidence grow.

Camel Kelly told the group the reason she wore her uniform after being retired is the attitude once you were a soldier; you always will be.

She asked when a person sees the uniform, what thoughts come to mind. Words spurted out describe seeing her in uniform as: “honor, patriotic, loyalty, strength, and resiliency.”

She added that she likes the philosophy of tribal health that coincides as the military and that is “We help our own.”

She explained in the military that to see a badge on a uniform indicates the hard dedicated work that falls behind it to get where the they are.

“Badges tell you something. You had to go through something, training, 12 mile road marches, and rigorous training and testing.”

Marine veteran – James Knapp, CSKT tribal member, 24, served four years at Okinawa, Japan, and Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, gave an impromptu presentation on his service experience. He says although he feels compelled to re-enlist he thinks of his wife, Kyla and baby Jace who is ten months old and doesn’t want to leave them with the reality of receiving a message on the doorstep that he has been killed in action. (Lailani Upham photo) Marine veteran – James Knapp, CSKT tribal member, 24, served four years at Okinawa, Japan, and Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, gave an impromptu presentation on his service experience. He says although he feels compelled to re-enlist he thinks of his wife, Kyla and baby Jace who is ten months old and doesn’t want to leave them with the reality of receiving a message on the doorstep that he has been killed in action. (Lailani Upham photo)

She pointed out however that young vets today are struggling by abusing substances and/or alcohol. “We have to recognize we have a problem; help them and guide them; with programs like this,” she told the group. She said one thing she and others should recognize with anybody who needs help is that more than likely their self-esteem is not there.

Knapp, 24, said he has a hard time sharing his combat experiences, but is working past it. Standing up spontaneously at the retreat was one step in moving in that direction of healing he acknowledged.

He did say one thing he is having a hard time in adjusting to civilian life is missing the brotherhood of the marines/military.

Knapp speaks for all veterans when it comes to the culture of the military and feeling the absence of the life, “When it comes down to it, if I’m in a foxhole, no matter what - I am going to cover for them in the heat of the moment,”

“The biggest thing I miss is the security. No matter how hard it was, they were there. Now that I’m home I have my family, but they don’t understand that. It is hard. I panic sometimes and withdraw. I’m glad they have the programs now,” Knapp said.

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