Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James E. Donald, president of the Georgia chapter of the Association of the United States Army, recently visited Hinesville and Fort Stewart.
The former deputy commander for the U.S. Army Pacific Command spoke Jan. 15 to members of the Coastal Empire AUSA Chapter at Golden Hibachi Buffet. Donald told AUSA members that he agrees with former Sen. Bob Dole, who called today’s all-volunteer military the new “greatest generation.”
Dole was featured in journalist Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation,” which celebrated the generation that lived through World War II.
“Despite multiple deployments, family hardships and the lowest percentage of Americans serving in the history of our Army, today’s soldiers continue to set new standards of excellence,” he said, explaining the purpose of the AUSA is to serve as a voice for those soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and their families. “AUSA consists of retired soldiers, citizens and businessmen who, in some cases, have never served, but at the end of the day recognize that freedom isn’t free.”
He said even though it was good to recognize the accomplishments of this “remarkable modern volunteer Army,” there are many “threats” on the horizon.
Among these threats are the high suicide rates of soldiers, Donald said, noting there had been 192 suicides in the Army in the past year. He told AUSA members the factors contributing to these suicides were “high anxieties surrounding an uncertain future.” He said Georgia has more than 772,800 servicemen on active duty or in the National Guard and Reserves. Over the next 18 months, 60,000 Georgia servicemen will be discharged, he said.
Other threats he talked about included the increase in the number of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries. He said more than 233,000 servicemen were diagnosed with PTSD in 2011. The former Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, Donald said he has been concerned about the impact the “silent wounds” of PTSD may have on the 3,200 veterans in state prisons.
“We have made much progress in monitoring these veterans in our (prison) system,” he said. “Our vets are an area of special interest in corrections, and our re-entry programs continue to optimize the VA benefits tailored specifically for them.”
Donald praised Georgia’s Executive Director for Vocation, the Georgia Department of Corrections, United Service Organizations, Salvation Army, University System of Georgia and, especially, the AUSA.
He concluded his speech focusing on threats to military retirement and benefits.
“As our country debates the economic crisis we face and look to where we must make cuts in spending, I urge all of us to remember that veterans’ retirement and medical benefits are not gifts — they have been earned through their blood, sweat, repeated deployments and sometimes loss of limbs and life,” Donald said. “Certainly, the richest country on Earth can afford to continue its benefits for the few — less than 1 percent of the population — who defended it with a lifetime of service.”
On Jan. 17, Donald was a guest at the tree dedication for the 444th eastern redbud tree planted in memory of a 3rd Infantry Division soldier killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan. While trying to keep a low profile after the event, Donald said he was visiting Fort Stewart to meet soldiers. He said the No. 1 issue for the AUSA was how his organization could better help soldiers.