Veterans have a bond created by what they have seen, done and experienced that few others can fathom.
The situations that forged such a bond also create a toll, and that is something veterans of the 1544th Transportation Unit of the Illinois National Guard are working to ease for their comrades. Within the last year some of the veterans have formed the not-for-profit Veterans of Log Base Seitz (VLBS).
“We are making sure everybody who was part of that group has support. That they know they can reach out for help,” said board member Jessica Vice Woolum, whose husband served four years of active duty in the Army and four years with the guard.
He was with the 1554th when it left Paris in December 2003 for training before deployment to Iraq in 2004.
The 1544th was responsible for moving mail and supplies over some of Iraq’s most dangerous roads and providing security for convoys by civilian contractors. Even though it was not a combat unit, the 1544th suffered heavy casualties with five killed in action – Sgt. Ivory L. Phipps, Spc. Jeremy L. Ridlen, Sgt. Shawna Morrison, Spec. Charles Lamb and Sgt. Jessica L. Cawvey – and 28 additional Purple Heart recipients.
The unit’s first billet was Log Base Seitz, one of the most heavily mortared bases in Iraq.
After a year’s tour of duty, the 1544th came home, and Woolum said the veterans started gathering almost immediately for mutual support and that became yearly reunions. But the reunions were more than that.
“For years and years, we had a reunion or wellness retreat,” said Woolum, which was usually a three-day weekend. “Everybody stays together and takes their meals together. There are team building activities, yoga, mental and physical wellness and sometimes a talent show.”
The purpose is to maintain connections among the 170 members who served in Iraq. Woolum describes it as a time for both relaxing and group bonding.
She said past retreats were family events but the one for 2019 was just for the veterans and their spouses. Something else different at the 2019 retreat was the presence of an individual from Veterans Affairs who donated his time to inform the group about resources and educational opportunities available to veterans.
The experience with the VA representative convinced those attending the take the next step and form the not-for-profit in order to have a more organized approach for helping veterans.
“Overall, it’s a safety net for members of the 1544th for having information about resources and education,” said Woolum, adding the primary focus is for the veterans who served at Log Base Seitz but the group also wants to be there for subsequent veterans of the 1544th and perhaps veterans from other branches of the service.
VLBS is planning an April family retreat for its members in Paris, but that is still in the preliminary stages. The group will also have a float in the Christmas in Paris parade.
“That’s new for us,” she said regarding the float and participation in the event.
More information about Veterans of Log Base Seitz is available at www.vlbs1544.org.