‘How we can help those who have already helped us:’ Commander of the American Legion Post No. 439, Matt Hillock, would like a memorial building in the community
Assimilating back into society after war is a challenge for many veterans.
Some former military members, according to the commander of the American Legion Post No. 439, Matt Hillock, did not always receive a strong welcome home, despite the traumatic events they had lived through abroad.
Hillock said that learning to reconnect after coming home from war takes a supportive community effort, as well as looking to other former vets for guidance.
“Sometimes it takes one to know one,” he said. “But we can’t do it on our own – that’s not what it’s about … sometimes it’s not always easy to put yourself out there. It’s gonna bring back memories no matter what. Being around former military is going to remind you of certain things. Some people don’t want to be reminded … it’s too much. Those are the veterans that we’re really trying to help the most.”
Hillock stated that before he joined the military he was very social, working in public relations and going out at night as a young man.
“Sometimes it’s a challenge for me to go into meetings … I have to motivate myself to go do it.”
For him, the legion is a safe space where he can go and be understood by those with similar experiences.
Veterans in the Tahoe/Truckee community are also struggling to find housing and jobs that pay an adequate wage for the high cost of living in the area. Hillock said that some veterans have been struggling with housing lately. Some are forced to live in different homes month to month.
“Living in a community that’s full of empty houses when people can’t find a place to live … doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s such a big customer service area and those jobs are usually the lowest paying … there’s such a shortage. They have to at least pay you enough to live here. I know for a fact that there are veterans experiencing that.”
Despite facing so many challenges, Hillock believes that Truckee has been a very welcoming community for veterans. The community has played a crucial role in supporting the legion through donations and collaboration, offering veterans and their families programs including basketball, indoor baseball, and fishing.
The legion will be expanding its programs in the near future with winter activities such as skiing and snowmobiling.
“This community is pretty awesome. A lot of people want to make it happen for others, especially veterans.” said Hillock.
Having these programs available to veterans and their families gives them an opportunity to find a safe space to enjoy themselves, breathe, and relax. This is Hillock’s way of paying it forward to those who fought bravely for their country, some of whom didn’t have a choice after being drafted into war.
“The Vietnam vets didn’t get a very good welcome back … those are the guys that helped me when I got back when I finally realized I wanted to talk about it,” Hillock said. “Those were the guys who helped me breathe… If there’s ever a day that we try to think as a community how we can help those who have already helped us, that’s a good day to have. That’s what Veterans Day is to me, is thinking about those that have served that might need our help.” said Hillock.
Hillock is from Charleston, South Carolina, and decided to move to Truckee because of the proximity to the coast and the lifestyle of living in the mountains. He even worked as a ski instructor for six years. When he came to Truckee he was recruited by Dennis Cook, the former commander of the legion, who later became his mentor.
Now Hillock is the youngest member of the legion, and has a vision for creating more opportunities for its 35 members. He wants a memorial building in the community, which would include a veterans employment center. His vision would have veterans run and operate the facility.
“It is a memorial building first and foremost,” he said. “The more places that we lose the ability to share our history and experience it, the less we’re going to remember and learn from it. I tell people all the time, ‘the Army was created in 1775 and the country didn’t come around until 1776’ … it’s important to keep this space for sharing the military history.”
Some other opportunities and resources for veterans through the legion are paid training and job opportunities for former military and their dependents through a broadcast called “Veterans TV” out of Grass Valley that has been supplied with $3 million worth of equipment.
Additionally, the legion has been provided with 19 cold weather go-bags for veterans who are in need to prepare for winter.
Those who are interested in these opportunities may send their inquiries to email@example.com.
For cold weather go-bags, veterans may visit the Truckee American Legion Post, at 10214 High St.
Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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