I have been asked by Ken and Betty Rodgers to comment upon a special program that has been recently instituted by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department within their county jail system. The program’s goal is to stop veterans from returning to confinement in a never-ending revolving door scenario, which is a known and tragic aftermath of war. We hope to give our incarcerated veterans a chance to get back on—and stay on—the high road.
The hands-on supervisory authority for this program is the responsibility of retired Marine Master Sergeant G. Morales, who is the program administrator and chief counselor.
The three outside team members are Marine Combat Veterans: Bill Rider, Colonel Al Slater and I. Bill Rider and I served at Khe Sanh, and Al Slater did his time in the barrel in the unforgiving environment of the far Northern sector of the DMZ, in The Trace and along the Ben Hai River. He and his company of Marines battled the NVA to a standstill every time they crossed sabers. Both Bill and Al are members of one of the most famous Marine infantry units to serve in Vietnam, “The Walking Dead,” First Battalion, 9th Marines (1/9).
Bill, the team leader, is the founder and chief executive officer of the American Combat Veterans of War (ACVOW). I note that Bill and all volunteers in ACVOW receive no compensation. They are volunteers in the true, righteous sense of the word. Bill was with 1/9 before, during and after the second Battle of Khe Sanh, serving as a riflemen, fire team leader and squad leader until he took the hardest and last of his three hits and was evacuated out of country. Though it was never awarded, his unit twice nominated Bill for the Silver Star.
These two Marines are veterans of some of the most vicious, hand-to-hand combat and hardest fought battles in the history of the Vietnam War. I note in passing that the three of us wear a total of six Purple Heart medals. This is mentioned only in the context that when discussing the effects that hard, sustained combat can have on Warriors, we collectively and individually bring some bona fides to the table, lending credence to our observations, comments and recommendations.
Our mission, which has been reduced to a Memorandum of Understanding, is currently awaiting review and approval by the sheriff and his staff. The short version of our mission is to assist these veterans in re-entering society in a productive and responsible manner. This will be done by assisting with job placement, education, establishing/re-establishing their veterans benefits to include discharge upgrades, medical, disability and limited financial assistance if needed/as available. Clearly, the official document is more detailed.
The veterans in the jail, and the three of us, with the assistance of Master Sergeant Morales, agreed to the necessity of establishing a couple of ground rules within which both sides could operate. Briefly, ground rule #1 recognized that the inside veterans and the three of us on the outside have developed over a number of years, rather well-oiled B.S. detection meters. That said, we agreed to not consciously force the use of this rare detector, and rule #2, and as important, agreed that what is discussed in the cell block stays in the cell block (CB). With those two essential operational rules, the program was set in motion.
The veterans who are in this test program have been carefully screened. Veterans who have committed violent crimes, such as serious assaults/batteries, child molestations and other similar crimes, are not in the program. Those who are selected, for the most part, have been accused/convicted of committing crimes that can be attributed to drug and/or alcohol related abuse problems, minor domestic violence issues and other crimes of this type; poor decision choices made while under the influence, which short-circuits normal thought processes.
The resulting group of 32+ veterans includes a couple of our vintage from the Republic of South Vietnam era. The numbers of specific War on Terrorism veterans increase as we get closer to the Iraq and Afghanistan ventures. I have made very satisfying and personal contacts with several of the vets in the CB—one will be released by the time you read this and will be working within a verified, excellent program. He was in 3/5, “The Dark Horse Battalion,” as a rifleman in what remains one of the fiercest of several tough battles in Iraq. Another is a long-serving SEAL with tours in both the above areas of operations. He is a good man who probably should not be where he is. Our consensus is that he will be released very shortly.
The group meets once a week, usually every Thursday morning or afternoon, and the sessions are critiqued and reviewed by the chief counselor and the ACVOW Team afterwards. The program as envisioned is constantly being fine-tuned, and it does vary from session to session. For example, on a recent Thursday, Bravo! was shown in its entirety to our veterans in their CB, or as we like to say, in their home, with their permission and on their time.
I refer to what we do, including the documentary screening, as training that is needed for each of them as they are all on an extended, unaccompanied tour of duty without dependents; not necessarily a bad way of describing their current situation. I must say that some veterans were completely overcome by the film’s content, the subject and presentation. As I scanned the common CB room, I noted several of the men were having trouble with eyes perspiring—most of these were verified combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Sounds kind of familiar?
After 4-1/2 months of data collection:
* 26 Inmate Veterans released
* 21 Inmate Veterans placed into a program
* 5 Transferred to state prison
* 1 Drug relapse (not arrested, returned to program)
* 1 Charges dropped and released to work-furlough (refused community service, subsequently rearrested)
* 0 Disturbances noted in the Veterans CB during this period
As many of you know, the ultimate success of programs like this can frequently get side-tracked; lack of funding, too many people claiming to be the daddy, fights over turf—the list goes on. I personally feel that this program, under the supervision of the chief administrator, Retired Marine Master Sergeant Morales, is progressing very well and that the credit for the success must rest with him, Bill Rider, and Colonel Slater.
Finally, The Program has been enthusiastically received and accepted by the veterans. They collectively feel it is beneficial, informative and very professionally conducted. If the initial data is any indication, the program is positively headed in the intended direction and at a manageable speed. I will attempt to keep everyone informed of our progress as this worthwhile project matures and develops.
I am proud to note that Ken and Mrs. Betty believe so strongly in what Mr. Rider and his organization are doing that the ACVOW received the net proceeds of the Vista American Legion Post 365 and the Fallbrook VFW Post 1924 documentary previews of Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.
For the Veterans, Team Morales and the ACVOW,