Hampton Roads is home to one of the world’s largest populations of military personnel, with approximately 83,000 active duty military personnel; 13,000 of which leave the military every year to seek jobs in the private sector.
We are surrounded by folks in uniform throughout the 757. Our cities, housing markets, and small businesses heavily rely on dollars the military pumps into our economy, but it begs a couple of questions – How well do military members feel integrated into our communities? How well do I personally try to establish connections with these folks? I’m not convinced we do enough to help our active service members and veterans feel at home.
That’s why a group is getting together in the casual setting of O’Connor Brewing during their weekly Military Monday to talk about potentially starting a brand new program aimed at building a better connection between young active duty soldiers in Norfolk, and the community who loves them.
The basics: An “adopt-a-troop” program that matches young men and women who have raised their hands to serve, with Norfolk families willing to raise their hands to be a “family-away-from-home” for that young man or woman.
It could be as simple as being willing to take that troop out for dinner once a month when they are stationed here. It could blossom into more, if the match is right.
Right now, as far as we can tell, something like this does not exist here in Norfolk. The goal at this meeting is to talk about what pieces would need to come together to make a pilot program happen, and to figure out next steps forward.
How do I know there’s a need for this kind of program? I was one of those troops who could have used a solid local connection.
In 1986 I was living in California and at the age of 19 enlisted in the Army and ventured off across the country to somewhere I knew no one, Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training. Upon graduation I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” at Fort Campbell, KY. Fort Campbell is a large military base located next to the city of Clarksville, Tennessee — a city I’d never heard of, where I knew no one — and being without a car relied on tagging along with my Army buddies for adventures in town. We really had no connection to the community other than frequenting local bars along Highway 41A, a stretch of road so ridden with car crashes it was nicknamed 41 Accident. Our plans were simple – drink the drinks, impress the ladies, and blow off the steam of Army life.
I would have loved nothing more than for a local to have taken me under their wing, and showed me the kind of down home city I have discovered at my eventual home base: here in Norfolk.
Several duty stations, deployments, and 20 years later I ended up in Norfolk, another place I’d really never knew much about. It was here I left the service and decided to call this place home. In my ten or so years around here I’ve made a lot of great friends, organized several events to help the homeless, become a yogi, and have discovered I really love this place. You’re pretty cool, Norfolk, and I’d love to help our military neighbors discover that as well.
Come join us at our very own O’Connor Brewing Company from 6-7:30pm on 11 December to get started. Let’s help create a sense of home for those who serve.
For more, here is the event on Facebook