So what is Alabama Veteran? Who are we and what it is all about? It’s simple. Alabama Veteran is coalition of local Veterans, from all services, with a simple agenda, reconnecting our comrades through engagement, support and fellowship.
We came together in the spirit of fellowship and camaraderie to create a community-based Veterans outreach system that is focused on the individual Veterans, their families and the community.
Right now, we are a 100% volunteer grass roots organization with a community-wide network that helps navigate and bridge the gap between Veterans, those that serve them and the community. We know that there are many great organizations within the community already providing outstanding services to Veterans. However, out of necessity, and because of structure, these organizations often have to operate at the 30,000 ft. level. At Alabama Veteran we work to be the local voice for Veterans. Operating on our cellphones, over Facebook and face-to-face. On the ground, in the Foxhole, in real-time.
A few months ago, Ben Armstrong and I met via a short phone conversation. It was out of nowhere. We shared a similar passion, to change the Veteran experience in the State we both call home. Immediately we began our internal campaign. Ben conducted a local needs assessment and a review of the service space, while I took networking and leveraging my corporate sector experience. We shared our opinions and experiences. We discussed what we’d found, and with that identified opportunities to act within the community.
One area I was very interested in was the spiritual connection, or the spiritual re-connection, of Veterans. “What about a Veteran Small Group within a Church?” I thought. This idea could be easily overlooked because, after all, service is service and worship, right? Well yes, but maybe not in the eyes of a Veteran longing for connection. Sometimes we, Veterans, are looking for something beyond the shaking hands with and receiving blessing from those seated around us in a traditional service. Fraternal fellowship is routinely sought by large groups of Veterans. Some join the VFW or American Legion and others the Shrine and Freemason lodges. Regardless of which, each of these organizations gives Veterans an opportunity to reconnect with each other and to give back to their community through charity and volunteerism. So why not create the opportunity in the Faith-based environment? Why not create one at my Church? So with a few other Veterans I set out to do that.
We set up the Veteran Small Group at my church a few months ago, and our experience within the church’s outpost has been great. First, the Group created a comfortable space for interested Veterans to link-up. A place away from record keeping, medical flow charts, and disinterest. We’ve had some ups and downs. Some members were too busy outside the church, some were still isolated suffering from their experiences at war, and others simply didn’t believe in the concept. Today, it is working and it has a ton of support from the Church and the members. The Veteran Small Group is not your regular round table worship, instead it’s a spiritual fraternal experience for Veterans. Worship is the roots of its charge, but we get there through camaraderie and Veteran to Veteran dialogue, types of interactions that can only occur among a trusted group of Veterans.
The special thing that we never released about putting together a group like this was all unforeseen successes it would create. While the gospel itself fuels the soul, it’s the caring nurturing climate of the group that empowers members to tear down their walls and engage and help one another. It has facilitated work outside of the gospel in areas of the community on where there once was none. Members of the group have taken charge of the Veteran experience by leading and connecting fellow Veterans and members to the community. Other members are working to help fellow Veterans navigate finding employment, often helping Veterans secure jobs that were otherwise not obtainable.
It is a place where the power of networking takes over by default. No favors, entry fees, or gimmicks, just Veterans taking care of Veterans. Every success for a Veteran in the group is a success for the group as a whole.
I encourage those out there that are interested, community church staff or Veterans, to consider the power of fraternal Veteran worship.
Our group is young, but has done so much already and will do much more. Think about what other groups in other churches could accomplish for so many other Veterans.
Some might think that there isn’t a lot that can come out of creating a Small Group. But, think about it like this. When you create a space for Veterans you give them the opportunity to leverage their leadership, experience and community network within the group to support each other. It give you the opportunity to take action and improve the Veteran experience. It supports socioeconomic growth and development among the Veterans, and extends it beyond that by creating a little community for the Veterans to engage in.
In a way that is Alabama Veteran, and this is Everything Veteran.
Feel free to reach out to me via my email to join us for our next meeting and to see how we can help you start your own.
Al Castillo Jr.
Al “Big Al” Castillo, former Senior Noncommissioned Officer served in the U.S. Army for 16 years and is a native of Houston, Texas. As an Infantryman Al served in a variety of rapid deployable disciplines as well as having attended and graduated from a number of leader development courses and tactical career field schooling. He also served in variety of capacities, Rifleman thru Rifle Company First Sergeant, with multiple deployments in support of both the Iraqi and Enduring Freedom campaigns.
Al is a member of the U.S. Army’s Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, the National Infantry Association with Centurion Medallion Recognition, and is also a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He bears two Purple Hearts for wounds sustained in the line of duty. He is an avid volunteer who spends every opportunity reaching out to the post-service warfighter community with many credible and well-valued works.
Al’s volunteer works include: Volunteer work with the Soldier Outreach Center of Columbus, GA, the PTSD Foundation and Camp Hope in Houston, Texas, the Veterans Leadership Ministry, connecting Veterans with community leaders, and volunteer work as a City of Birmingham Jefferson County Veterans Court Mentor. Al is currently pursuing his call to serve those who’ve served and those in the transition phase of the service tenure with the Alabama Veterans network.