The tribute to area veterans was both festive and intimate Wednesday night at the Porter County Fair’s Park Place Pavilion.
Upbeat tunes from the Valparaiso community band enlivened the entire tent space from the stage as a variety of vendors seeking to publicize their services to veterans surrounded the perimeter and a downpour enveloped the stage just above. beyond the eaves. These vendors touted their deals as the band played a variety of songs in the background, from TV and movie themes to patriotic vigils.
The rain broke and the sun shone as keynote speaker and area combat veteran Wes Barnes took the stage to speak about a call to duty that, while patient, would not be appeased.
A former United States Marine Corps infantry officer from 2011 to 2017, Barnes told the crowd that he first felt the need to serve his country while sitting in Spanish class at the Wheeler High School in 2001 after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Barnes said his parents were troubled about their son joining the military, so he went on to Hanover College in 2004. He graduated in 2008, became a certified financial planner and went to work in the company. Hightower Great Lakes investment where it is now. a partner.
But the desire to serve in the army never left him. “As an able-bodied person, I felt a little guilty sitting in my comfortable chair,” he said. So Barnes launched a series of searches that he believed would lead him to the branch of the military most likely to end in deployment.
He traded that comfy chair for a lot of discomfort, something he said the Marine Corps needed its officers to make peace with, with a lot of uncertainty. “I didn’t know if I had what it took to be a leader in the Marines, but I was up for the challenge,” Barnes said.
In the end, he actually got what it took and found great pride in a particular assignment with Regimental Combat Team 7 based out of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. His Mobile Assault Unit identified a Taliban member they were told was responsible for planting roadside bombs that caused numerous American Navy and Marine casualties.
Barnes said he learned three lessons before his deployment ended in May 2013.
The first was to lead by example. “Subordinates watch what you do and imitate what you do,” he said, adding that it certainly comes in handy while raising his 3-year-old daughter.
Others need to stay humble and find a way to win with integrity.
The Porter County Fair issued a statement on Facebook to quell any rumors about the change of keynote speakers from Air Force Col. Jennifer-Ruth Green to Barnes. Green, a Republican, is running for U.S. Congress against incumbent President Frank Mrvan.
“The program’s original speaker was invited to speak about his personal military experiences and share the impact of his time serving this country, not his current candidacy for political office,” the statement read. “In an effort to depolarize the experience for our visitors, we have reworked our lineup of speakers. We appreciate the grace and understanding of our original speaker when the fair had to go in a different direction.
Navy veteran Michael Felten of Valparaiso was one of many veterans in the audience. He said he and his wife came for the Veterans and Seniors Day combination at the fair. “We were impressed that they combined the two and admission was free,” he said. “It was wonderful. I appreciate that. I have several friends in the group.
Lynn Musall, an Air Force veteran in the crowd, recalled her time as a computer technician for the intercontinental ballistic missiles from 1976 to 1980. “I was the only girl in a store of 25. I was the first girl and they didn’t really want to take me in,” she said.
She said anyone in her role had to be able to carry her 150-pound half of gear with a partner deep underground. “My husband was the only one who said, ‘If she can lift it, I’ll go down with her.’ I could almost lift it on my own.
While the military is much more inclusive of women these days, so are organizations that work to support veterans. Combat Bikesaver was one of the vendors set up to advertise their services and were quick to point out that they welcome women.
The organization started seven years ago in Cedar Lake with the goal of reducing the suicide rate among veterans by offering a therapeutic motorcycle workshop. Any veteran can participate in the organization which now has a garage at Crown Point, but the hot rod therapy program is specifically for veterans with service-related disabilities.
With a $2,000 budget for parts and materials and a donated bike, the veterans work their own lift at the shop every Sunday. When the bike is finished, it’s up to the veteran to keep it. “Bringing these men and women together in a secluded space where they can be themselves and leave their bags at the door,” that’s the goal, said national marketing manager Andrew Hasty, himself a combat veteran. of the US Marine Corps.
Shelley Jones is a freelance journalist for the Post-Tribune.