A Veterans Perspective: Celebrating Veterans Day as a Community, Honoring Our Service and The Memory of Our Fallen

​​​The Alabama Veteran Board of Directors would like to take a moment to share with you another weekend event in rewind, our first annual 4 Day Veterans Day Weekend Retreat honoring US Army Staff Sergeant Sonny C. Zimmerman.

​The spirit of Veterans Day means more than just having a day off and connecting with good friends and family for a memorable dinner. To Veterans like myself, it means never forgetting our friends, our fallen, and the future a handful never lived to see. It means living a better today because we served with America’s best yesterday.

 

Strong Bonds in The Community

To date, Alabama Veteran has connected with thousands of Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom Veterans. Our mission revolves around engagement in community works and both social and recreational therapy. Bottom line, the service-to-civilian transition is not easy. Camaraderie being the first thing out the door leaves a newly arrived member to our community disconnected in a network driven world. Alabama Veteran connects veterans to the community and opportunities to reengage in meaningful community work.

This past weekend as captured by Retired Afghan and Iraq Veteran and Kiowa Helicopter Pilot David Fleckenstein provided the community with a new opportunity to engage with Veterans in a whole new way.

A Patriotic Bunch! 15 excited foursomes set to play 18 Holes with 18 Veterans

Contemporary Alabama- never thought I would see it, but I did. This past Veterans Day weekend I had the absolute privilege of joining the Central Alabama community for its schedule of Veterans Day events. At the invitation of Alabama Veteran’s President Al Castillo I made my way to Hoover, Alabama to participate in a four day strong-bond retreat.

I am not a writer, I am not at blogger, but after flying nearly 1500 hours over the skies of Iraq and Afghanistan I am quite skilled in “gathering information” or as we like to call it Reconnaissance. I will be using those skills to recount the activities that took place, but more importantly what it meant to the Veterans that were able to take part in this event. I want to personally thank Alabama Veteran’s staff and volunteers and local community business for creating the experience. I am beyond grateful for getting the chance to take part in something like this. Without members of the community such as yourselves this wouldn’t have been possible. I hope this gives an inside look at everything you were able to provide to these deserving young men. Thank you again.

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The weekend began with everyone meeting for lunch and light refreshments at Taco Tech the Friday before Veterans Day. I cannot move forward without crediting Alabama Veteran’s Chief Operations Officer, Jody Chapman, a former Army Combat Engineer Officer and Afghan Veteran for a job well done. At a glance you would think that these four days simply came together due to solid team work and volunteers, but looking back that wasn’t the case. Jody may have easily spent hours composing the playbook. Not only did we arrive according to flow, we were greeted everywhere and had teams on standby to see us through portions of the day- this was one large scale event and Jody did an amazing job putting it together.

TACO TECH check-in. Chris Zimmerman was the first to speak. Chris is the father of Sonny Zimmerman, a US Army Infantryman who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013 and was being honored in this weekend. The fellow Veterans followed, each giving a little of their military background, and where they were from. After lunch we traveled to the resort- massive! Ross Bridge was overwhelming by the sheer size and beauty of the resort. The walk into the resort was an experience in itself. Local families lined up to welcome our group with their thanks and the waving of American flags. It was clear that this Ross Bridge community and its establishments were super patriotic. This was a very humbling experience and I can assure you it touched each of the Veterans. The rooms were amazing by themselves, but the “gift crates” that were provided to all of the Veterans were something else. At no point did anyone have the need to hunt down drinks, snacks, water- anything. All the things you would want to make any golf weekend outing was there, and then some. The evening was spent at Cahaba Brewery sharing stories, eating BBQ, touring the brewery, and surviving continuous challenges of “Giant Jenga”.

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Veterans Everywhere!

BAMA Football, Golf Lessons, and Fellowship- this is a big take home from my experience. Day 2 began with a “tailgate” style breakfast. The events of the day were briefed to the group and the morning was spent with 2 of Ross Bridge’s finest giving a few golf lessons before the tournament. The lessons were outstanding. It gave all of the Veterans a chance to fine tune their game, as well as trying a few new “tips” from the Pros. After a great morning on the range, the group was off to Twin Peaks for lunch. As seen the night prior, lunch was filled with more great food, football, lots of golf chatter, and more bonding between everyone at the event. Saturday evening would bring even more fun, food, and what most of the group were excited about…the Alabama Game. What stood out most that evening was the added company.  Our group had the opportunity to meet and spend the evening with Gold Star Moms (parents to U.S. Service Members killed overseas)and what seemed like 50 local Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. The time spent together provided the Veterans and these families a chance to connect in a way that most of the Nation will never understand. Alabama winning the game may have been the “highlight” of the evening, but the connections made that night won’t be forgotten.

War On The Greens. The tournament was amazing. The Course was breathtaking. The day started brisk and cloudy, but quickly turned into a beautiful day for golf. The teams paired with the Veteran guest connected early. Getting to meet and golf with members of the community that made this possible was an amazing opportunity. The reception that followed was as equally as impressing. Bringing everyone together was an amazing way to highlight what the weekend was all about. Bringing the members of the community, the gold star families, and the Veterans together in an unforgettable weekend truly shows how much Alabama cares for its Veterans. After the reception finished the Veterans spent the remainder of the evening relaxing, playing cards, and sharing “war stories” of the recent tournament.

The highlight of the evening was having the opportunity to spend time with the members of Alabama Veteran that made the weekend possible. As Veterans themselves they should have been enjoying a relaxing weekend. Instead they chose to set this up, work with the community, and then make sure everything ran smoothly….I assure you they went above and beyond. We often times overlook the finer things in life, this weekend was the exception for sure. It was clear that our sponsors, local community, and community veterans came together to not only celebrate the veteran experience, but to thank us for our service in a therapeutic manner. Alabama Veteran lives by a motto, “Keeping Veterans Engaged and Making Moves”. I’ve witnessed their work via social media for two years now. They’ve engaged Veterans in everything from community volunteer work to Texas mobilizations in support of communities affected by Hurricane Harvey to this, a 4 Day Strong-bond Retreat and Golf Tournament honoring a true American Hero, Sonny C. Zimmerman- these guys and their supporters are the real deal! This weekend was one of a kind. Personally, I have never been on the receiving side of something like this and I can’t say thank you enough. What I can say is that what may appear as a “good time” on the surface is actually healing for many Veterans.

A Joyous Departure

​In the military we never say goodbye, rather we say “I’ll see you later”. That tradition made what would have been a sad departure for each of us who connected over the four days everything but that.  We each connected and found a way during our time away from the day to day grind to revisit moments in time gone unprocessed. The weekend had created an abundance of new friendships and that is something that is absolutely needed in the Veteran community. Even though no one wanted to leave, goodbyes were said and the weekend event came to an end.

I could find no better way to close this testimony than to share with you what I captured at our departure-
“I was honored to be invited to attend the Veterans Day event held by Alabama Veteran, including the War On The Greens Tournament honoring my son, Sonny Zimmerman and the many fallen heroes whose stories were found at each of the 18 Holes we played. It was truly inspiring to see what the combined support between area businesses, community groups, veterans, and the community as a whole can achieve. This event was well organized and professionally run. I met so many people that I know hold dear in my heart. Each of you Veterans as well as everyone involved from across the community demonstrated a gold plated character that was seen by all. You all have my respect, my love, and my heartfelt thanks for everything that you do.”

– Sonny’s Father, Chris Zimmerman

Acknowledgements

On behalf of Alabama Veteran’s Board of Directors I offer a special thank you to out generous supporters and to our veterans for their sacrifice and service to our nation. Without your support we could not have hosted this red carpet event at the level that we did, We look forward to seeing you next year

I would also like to congratulate our 1st Annual War on The Greens Tournament Winners led by Larry Sides. If you would like to know how you support our mission, reach me at: J.Chapman@alabamaveteran.org

Jody Chapman
Chief Operations Officer
​Alabama Veteran

Contributor

David Fleckenstine
Chief Warrant Officer
OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Pilot
Veteran Afghanistan | Iraq