Assisting Veterans in ag careers needs to be addressed more intentionally

veterans-day-imageIn honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Dr. Connie Baggett penned the following thoughts on how to make a more intentional impact on our Veterans who are interested in pursuing careers in agriculture after military service. Also a Veteran, Dr. Baggett is the Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education at Penn State University and Project Director for AgrAbility PA.

Our greatest thank you to all of our Veterans for your service to our country!

The making of a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine. When a person enters the armed forces, they are trained and conditioned for what lies ahead. Everyone goes through a basic training program to be successful for graduation. Officers and drill sergeants have the tremendous job of turning a civilian into a qualified military service person. Learning discipline is the first order of business. Trainees are taught to stand at attention; many commands like right-face or left-face; and how and when to walk, run, talk, speak, eat, sleep, and salute. Trainees learn camaraderie, teamwork, and military law and punishment—all covered in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

 

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Dr. Connie Baggett

Soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines are disciplined to follow orders. This sometimes means moving into hostile territory. They follow rules, techniques, and strategies to survive while accomplishing their mission. When their service is complete, they are transferred stateside. This may causes anxiety and stress because most have not had adequate time to process and adjust. This happened to me when I left Vietnam. I reacted to stateside sounds and stimuli as if I were still there.

 

I mention of all this because the military does an outstanding job of transforming civilians into military service people – dedicated to protecting our freedom and preserving our security. It must be our common goal to ensure they are able to work and live a productive life at home after they return from service. They have made sacrifices beyond what most of us will ever know.

The integration of a Veteran as a productive civilian. There are many organizations and agencies dedicated to helping Veterans adjust to life as a civilian. Such organizations can be found at the federal, state, and local levels, and many are government sponsored and supported. Unfortunately, because Veterans have so many different directions that they may go in, it can be challenging to effectively serve all of them.

Assisting Veterans who choose a career in the agricultural industry needs to be addressed more intentionally. Our project, AgrAbility PA, has been helping Veterans for many years. We provide resources and services to men and women who are battling a long-term health condition or disability – sometimes because of that military service – but they want to remain working in production agriculture. We partner with PA’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, PA’s Assistive Technology Foundation, PA’s Initiative on Assistive Technology, and others to assist farmers in acquiring the essential funding needed to make enhancements, changes, or improvements on a farm to accommodate a health issue or disability. Some Veterans have returned to a family farm after their service and others found a way to get started in farming.

The average age of a Pennsylvania farmer is their mid-50s – and many served our country in World War II, Korean, and Vietnam-era military conflicts. We need to continue to support and enable this generation of farmers. But we must also find a way to assist Veterans returning home from more recent conflicts, such as the Middle East. The chief complaint and request from this new era of Veterans is the need to acquire funds to purchase and equip a farm or Ag business.

The big challenge: Addressing the needs, wants, and desires of this new era Veteran. We need to approach this challenge logically and it begins with training – similar to the significant amount of training that goes into a military service person. We must make it a top priority to:

1) Create an agricultural skill development program for Veterans where they learn about overall farm management – from land and crops to equipment and animals.

2) Assist Veterans who have accomplished such training obtain funds or start-up capital.

3) Identify assistive technology and farm modifications for Veterans with a disability or long-term health condition.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you or someone you know could benefit from our resources and services: (814) 867-5288 or AgrAbility@psu.edu.

Dr. Connie Baggett is an Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education at Penn State University and Project Director for AgrAbility PA. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Army Commendation, and Army Commendation with Oak Leaf Cluster in addition to other training and unit medals and citations during his active duty.

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