Digging deep to help veterans

Curation project helps our wounded warriors immeasurably

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Opponents warned that Iraq could be another Vietnam for this country.

It wasn't.

But for Michael "Sonny" Trimble, it was worse.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist was called upon to retrieve remains of missing-in-action U.S. servicemen for some six years after the war in Vietnam. But his three years excavating Saddam Hussein's mass civilian graves took a decidedly heavier toll on him.

For one thing, he and his crew were literally under the gun in Iraq: They did their work in the midst of battle, from 2004 to 2007, and had to be protected at all times -- as prosecutors pushed incessantly for quick evidence to bring against the Butcher of Baghdad.

That brought Trimble the added privilege of being yelled at and endlessly accosted by Saddam at trial.

Worst of all, given the overly deliberate decomposition available in the arid Iraq soil, Trimble and the others were discovering fully-clothed bodies by the hundreds, not mere bone fragments. One little girl was buried face down -- holding a ball identical to one Trimble's daughter had played with. He let someone else handle that one.

Moreover, Trimble forged a foxhole-like bond with his soldier and Marine protectors -- three of whom were killed and two wounded.

It all changed him in ways unexpected for a seasoned pro. He came back as many war veterans do -- wary, more comfortable with his back to the wall, too much appreciating the safety of "hard" buildings after being exposed to live fire in tents and the open air.

But more than anything, he wanted to give back to those who kept him alive.

So, when a friend put two-and-two together -- and suggested that he start a program providing wounded warriors with job skills -- he couldn't hang up the phone quickly enough to get going on it.

Trimble was uniquely suited to the task, being the chief of the Corps' Curation and Archives Analysis Branch -- responsible for cataloguing and preserving the agency's many artifacts from construction sites around the country, most involving reservoirs and other water-control projects from 1947 to 1985.

The artifacts needed preserving -- and so did the wounded warriors' hope, confidence and self-esteem.

It was such a perfect marriage that, in Augusta anyway, it was more of an elopement.

Trimble, armed with a fortuitous stimulus bill grant of $3.5 million, had intended to open the Veterans Curation Project in three cities -- the first two being the high-profile Washington, D.C., and his home of St. Louis. When his wife saw Augusta wounded warrior activist Laurie Ott on a network news report about the success of the Active-Duty Rehabilitation Unit at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center here, Augusta instantly became the third.

But not for long: When Ott and Trimble were done, Augusta catapulted to No. 1 on the list -- and was the first site to go operational in October 2009.

Ott had simply tilled too much ground ahead of time, had brought too many agencies and angels together.

The curation project takes carefully screened squads of 10 or so wounded warriors at a time and trains them in cataloguing, curating, record-keeping and more -- job skills fit for many professions, especially photography and law enforcement. To date, 77 have plowed through the six-month, 20-hour-a-week program, 28 percent of whom have gone on to gainful employment.

The veterans have helped shaped the program themselves, clamoring for more of an emphasis on writing résumés and working on interview skills.

But more than anything, Trimble says, they thank the program for helping them believe in themselves again -- an inestimable gift for someone who's been badly injured in battle and unceremoniously unloaded into a largely unfamiliar dog-eat-dog civilian world.

Ott says the program does nothing less than help wounded warriors find new meaning in life, after the void left when the all-encompassing focus of surviving a war zone is lifted.

Like most stimulus funding, the curation project's runs out soon. The Corps plans stopgap funding in the coming year, but a permanent source of support is desperately needed.

No one is more mindful of the need for austerity than this newspaper. But neither do we understand why such a program as the Veterans Curation Project hasn't been around for a lot longer -- serving veterans from many more conflicts -- and we'd sure hate to see it go away now, particularly since Augusta has played such a prominent role in it.

In trying to unearth that lifeline, Trimble may be facing his toughest dig.

We wish him Godspeed.

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Gov.Palin 02/27/11 - 10:42 am
Retired Army, ‘Can't wait for

Retired Army, ‘Can't wait for the "Cut The Entitlements" crowd to jump in today. Aren't they the same bunch that insists taxes are too high? Especially on those hard working "Earners".’
As usual the liberals will try to politicize everything in their favor.

Gov.Palin 02/27/11 - 10:44 am
Retired Army, ‘I'm sticking

Retired Army, ‘I'm sticking around to see how hungry, desparate people finnaly wake up and DEAL with the corruption of the owner class. Sure hope it's peacefully.’
Slave days are long gone for most of us.

Brad Owens
Brad Owens 02/27/11 - 10:57 am
Retired Army, These vets have

Retired Army,

These vets have earned our support.

Those of us who are "earners" and pay taxes don't appreciate it when our hard earned dollars are spent on the "non-PRODUCERS" in our society who have the ABILITY to get a job and provide for themselves. I am not a "trust fund baby" and I have worked hard for all I have gotten.

I am a moderate with many liberal views but I do not like the burden of taxes being placed on me to give something to someone who could EARN it thenselves but won't.

Programs like this one support those who have sacrificed for us, so it is not a "giveaway" this is a pay back of something that was earned.

I would think a person with a screen name like "Retired Army" would understand the difference between paying back someone for service and giving away things to those who have not earned it.

I say cut the Obamacare for illegals and keep this worthy program funded. Rep. Barrow, you listening?


corgimom 02/27/11 - 06:42 pm
I'm all for training wounded

I'm all for training wounded vets to lead productive lives.

But approximately $3,500,000 for 77 people? That works out to over $40,000 per person.

Let's say it'll be 100 people by June 30. $35,000 per person for 6 months, part-time training?

Doesn't that seem just a little bit excessive?

Maybe it's not the project that's the problem, maybe it's the cost involved.

Gov.Palin 02/27/11 - 09:54 pm
RT, ‘Keep payin' those taxes

RT, ‘Keep payin' those taxes boyz and gurlz, I'm enjoyin' the money and I came about it honestly.’
IF you served in the military and retired with an honorable discharge you deserve your retirement pay. I'm glad to pay taxes to support you. If you did serve thank you for your service.

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