Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Vets and Active Duty Troops Speak at RTD Forum

I claim bragging rights on this one. The first speaker at the Public Square Forum sponsored by the Richmond Times Dispatch last night was an Iraq War Vet who is also my son. Ted completed his enlistment in the Marine Corps in June and will be attending college this fall.

Forum participants discuss wars
Virginians who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan share stories at T-D gathering


BY MEREDITH BONNY
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
June 18, 2006


Everyone wanted to shake Cpl. Ted Dickson's hand last night.

"I want to thank you for serving our country," Marine Corps veteran Rick Edmunds, 55, told him.

Dickson, a 22-year-old Marine from Powhatan County, recently finished a four-year active-duty stint that included operations in Iraq this year and last. He said he knew what it was like to sit on a wall and "know a handful of guys are waiting to shoot at you."

Dickson shared his story with about 75 people who turned out last night for The Times-Dispatch's Public Square forum at the newspaper's Hanover County production plant. He said he wanted folks to know that there is more going on in Iraq than what they read in the newspapers and watch on television.

"All you ever hear about is people getting killed or wounded," he said.

What most Americans hadn't heard about is how Dickson and other members of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, were able to transform areas in the Anbar province from, in his words, "the worst place in Iraq to one of the safest."

He talked about children returning to their homes with their families, and about Marines sharing candy with them.

"They realized we were good people after all," he said.

Thousands of Virginians have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, 91 have died in the conflicts. Last night, those who made it back, along with veterans of wars past and family members of service men and women, shared their stories.

Thomas A. Silvestri, president and publisher of The Times-Dispatch, moderated the forum. He handed the microphone to Pat Wilkinson, who talked about the sacrifices made by her husband, Virginia Army National Guard Col. Tom Wilkinson of Richmond.

Tom Wilkinson, who returned from Afghanistan in March, is deputy chief of staff of Operations Joint Forces Headquarters-Virginia.

Pat Wilkinson called her husband a hero and said he serves so that "everyone else can eat McDonald's and go to the church that they want to."

"Superman is right here," she said, seated beside her husband.

Kay Springfield of Powhatan County said she was nervous last night. Her 24-year-old son was on standby to leave from Hawaii for his second tour in Iraq within the next 48 hours.

When he returned the first time, she said she felt like "he made it. This is great. The second time it feels a little different."

Folks in the audience chuckled as Springfield described her soldier son's efforts in school as a challenge.

She talked about how he channeled the energy he once reserved for partying into the military.

"They made a man out of him," she said.

Edmunds, a Hanover resident who earlier shook Dickson's hand, said he remembered returning from Vietnam and being called a "baby-killer." He said he doesn't want other service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq to go through the same thing.

He asked fellow Richmonders to stop when they see someone in the military and thank them.

Master Sgt. Michael Voss, a father of two from Beaverdam, was frank about the impact on families of their loved ones deploying to a hostile environment. He served with Wilkinson in Afghanistan.

"It's a sacrifice that you make," Voss said.

"When I mobilized and deployed, my family mobilized and deployed," he said. "It's very hard on a family."


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