Older vets and recruits get to share experience

FORT JACKSON, S.C. --- Veterans from American Legion Post 71 looked on Tuesday at what appeared to be an attack on a military convoy.


The simulation at Fort Jackson was part of Reconnect, a program of the Department of South Carolina American Legion to let veterans connect with recruits.

"We are showing our support for the troops as well as getting to see the latest things," said Chuck Ashley, a member of Post 71, in North Augusta.

Mr. Ashley said he trained at Fort Jackson in 1949 but it's completely different today.

"I wouldn't know it," he said. "It's modernized; it's prettier."

Veterans watched as humvees arrived at Anzio Range, turning it into a street set up to represent Baghdad.

When a simulated improvised explosive device, or IED, exploded, soldiers rushed out of vehicles to return fire and help the wounded.

Next, the group of old soldiers watched recruits clear a village. Green smoke filled the air as simulated bombs were thrown out of the building at advancing troops.

Adding the simulated attack to basic training is a new concept, Lt. Col. Collin Fortier said.

"We've added urban training because that's where we're fighting, in the cities," he said. "It gives soldiers an idea of how to assault a city."

Bill Heil, of Post 195 in Lugoff, S.C., said most veterans have never had the type of training recruits now receive.

His post began Reconnect to get veterans and recruits working together. The program offers hands-on activities, too, such as firing weapons.

"We wanted to get closer to the troops," Mr. Heil said. "Meet with the troops, eat with them and let them know they are appreciated."

Beverly Funderburg, of Post 71, said she was surprised by more than the training tactics.

"I see these women out here. They wouldn't let us do anything," she said of her service with the Coast Guard during World War II. "We were always thanked for breaking the barrier."

Paul Wilk arranged for Post 71 to attend the exercise near Columbia because he thought it would help his members.

"It is a way to help our World War II veterans see what's going on today, and for the younger ones it helps us convey what military life is like today opposed to 15-20 years ago," Mr. Wilk said.

Reach Crystal Garcia at (706) 823-3409 or crystal.garcia@augustachronicle.com.


Veterans who want to attend a Reconnect session at Fort Jackson can call Bill Heil at (803) 438-8614.