DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The mission behind an expo in DeKalb County is all about serving those who served our country.
Howard O'Dell spent three years of active duty in the Army, serving in the Persian Gulf War in the 24th Infantry Division. At first, he only meant to join the military for job experience and to see the world. He ended up rising to the rank of lieutenant and learned some leadership lessons along the way.
"When you’re in the military, it’s a different way of life," O'Dell said. "A transition from that life to civilian life can be very difficult if you really haven’t known much else. Supporting veterans trying to make that transition is critical.”
That support comes on a day when many veterans and first responders reflect on the sacrifice demanded on and after September 11, 2001.
"It was a huge gut punch," O'Dell said. "I can remember that day very vividly. It didn't just change our country, it changed the world and our relationship with the world – some of it good, some of it not so good. It was one of those moments in time."
O'Dell recounted how the day still resonates with him, feeling grateful he was to be able to serve his country.
11Alive caught up with him at the Veterans Resource Expo in DeKalb County, put on by County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw. He first started the initiative in honor of his father, who also served in the armed forces. The event aims to connect veterans with much-needed resources like physical and mental healthcare, affordable housing and financial assistance.
"You talk about the depression and PTSD, mental health issues, and there's homelessness rash that's incredible," Bradshaw said. "The suicide rate among veterans is way too much. I left the Army in 1993, so it’s been a while ago. But there has been a whole generation of veterans that have come behind me, served in wars after the one I fought in, and it’s important that that tie that binds us together, we keep that going.”
Out of the rubble of ruin more than two decades ago rose organizations like Tunnels to Towers. Lynda Cox, associate vice president of development, said it's a group dedicated to those fallen victims on September 11 that helps house veterans, first responders and their families.
"No veteran that signed up to serve our country should ever have to worry about where they're going to live," Cox said. "We build smart homes for catastrophically injured veterans and first responders. We also pay off the mortgages for gold star families and fallen first responder families with small children."
It's those efforts and others that salute servicemen and women. And that work reminds veterans like Howard O'Dell that their sacrifice wasn't in vain.
“It's a recognition of the service, and from what I can see, the VA and organizations like that just need to provide more for veterans, do more for them," O'Dell said. "There are so many things we used to take for granted that we can't take for granted anymore, including our safety."