Veterans testify as Lake City events unfoldThe tragedy involving one Iraq War veteran played out Monday in Lake City at the same time another veteran was testifying before state lawmakers that he feels National Guard did little to help him return to civilian society.
By: Anne Jacobson and Don Davis, The Republican Eagle
The tragedy involving one Iraq War veteran played out Monday in Lake City at the same time another veteran was testifying before state lawmakers that he feels National Guard did little to help him return to civilian society.
Alan J. Sylte Jr., 25, of Hager City, died Monday. He first shot Lake City policy officer Shawn Schneider in the head and later turned the gun on himself.
Sylte’s official cause of death will be suicide — a growing problem for returning soldiers.
No one knows if Sylte’s four-month tour in Iraq played a role in Monday’s events.
However, law enforcement took the possibility of Sylte’s war service into account during the daylong standoff, calling in a bomb squad in case the former soldier had explosives or had somehow booby-trapped the house at 618 W. Lyon Ave.
Sylte served in the Wisconsin National Guard. He was a combat engineer with 724th Engineer Battalion headquartered in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and was honorably discharged the summer of 2010, according to the Pierce County Veterans Service Office.
Getting veterans help is what Minnesota’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program is all about, according to Bob Davis. A Vietnam War veteran, he is the Goodhue County veterans officer and was instrumental in starting the program shortly after the Iraq War began nearly nine years ago. The program has since started to spread nationwide.
Wisconsin doesn’t have an extensive reintegration program as Minnesota does, Davis said. He didn’t comment on Sylte’s situation, but talked about the importance of connecting with returning veterans.
“We contact them and contact them, even when they say no,” he said.
The road to reintegration is a personal guide for returning soldiers, providing initial training plus mandatory events 30, 60 and 90 days later. The program also has reintegration training for family.
Equally important, Davis and others have noted, is that Beyond the Yellow Ribbon provides community reintegration training. The National Guard educates community leaders about the challenges and helps them understand what they can do to assist combat veterans and their families reunite and rejoin into the community.
In St. Paul on Monday, Iraq War veteran Greg Roberts admitted “I was having some serious issues” upon returning from the Iraq war.
“We basically got put on the bus, we went home and did a ceremony and that was it,” the Bemidji man told House and Senate veterans’ committees.
His testimony came during a hearing in which top Minnesota Guard officials said they are working to keep soldiers and former soldiers from committing suicide by providing help during and after their service.
“It’s devastating when someone takes his or her own life,” said Major Gen. Rick Nash, who leads the state Guard.
Sen. Mike Parry, R-Wascea, said he is impressed with actions Nash and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito are taking to help returning soldiers. Parry said he thinks Roberts fell through the cracks and he urged Roberts to refer any of his buddies in trouble to veterans officials for help.
Nash and Lt. Col. John Morris, the Minnesota Guard chaplain, told lawmakers about their efforts to reintegrate soldiers into society after being deployed.
Nash said most military suicides are of white men in their 20s, and many are from those returning home but do not have jobs. Surprisingly, he said, two-thirds of military suicides are by those who are not deployed.
In the past four years, nearly 20 Minnesota National Guard personnel have killed themselves. That is the second most in the country.
Soldiers coming home face many problems, Roberts said.
“Home is not what you remember it to be,” he said. “It’s the same, but you are different. … You expect everything to be better when you get home.”
He felt different after leaving the war four years ago.
“I was basically like an alien on Earth,” he said, adding that only his Army buddies could understand what he went through.
Because of his emotional problems, he said that he missed some National Guard reintegration drills designed to help him get back into society.
No one called him to ask why he missed the drills. “That, in retrospect, is quite a disservice.”
Shellito said Roberts is normal. “He just wanted to be left alone.”
As a Vietnam War veteran, Shellito said, his only therapy was talking to fellow veterans. Now, his department and the Guard have programs designed to help.
“We are light years ahead of other states,” Shellito added about Minnesota’s Yellow Ribbon program.
Such programs will become more important, Shellito added. With the end of the Iraqi war, more soldiers will leave the military, he said, which will put more stress on reintegration programs.
“We have a tsunami coming,” added John Baker, a retired Marine who now is a lawyer representing veterans.