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UWF Symposium & Expo To Serve Area Veterans And Their Families


Military veterans and their families will be the focus of an event being held this Saturday at the UWF Conference Center.

The Greater Pensacola Veteran and Family Symposium & Expo will be a day-long affair, featuring speakers and more than 40 veteran service organizations. It’s is the first such event to be presented by the Veterans Coalition of Northwest Florida.

“This is specifically an event for veterans and their families to come out and learn about all the resources in the local area that can support them,” said Navy veteran Marc Churchwell, director of the Military and Veterans Resource Center at UWF, which is part of the coalition. He’s also involved with the other coalition groups to include the Gulf Coast Veterans Advocacy Council, Panhandle Warrior Project, and Military Retiree Central (MRC).

“A lot of our veterans don’t understand they have benefits they are eligible for,” Churchwell said. “Once they do learn, who can they go to (to) help get support,”  he asks, “particularly if they’re having some sort of issues where they need assistance; if it’s looking for jobs, going to school, getting medical support.”

Some of the organizations participating in the event are the VFW, American Legion, VA Vet Center Counseling services, and HER Foundation, which has established a shelter specifically for female veterans. In short, there will be a wide range of resources covering issues relevant to all veterans from retirees, receiving a monthly, down to those who’ve separated after only a few years of service and need to retool for their career change.

“Some coming back and want to go to school, haven’t been to school in a while and so they’re a little weak in their math and English skills,” said Churchwell, referencing the Veterans Upward Bound at Pensacola State College. Veterans are able to attend this program free of charge because it’s a grant-funded program directed at veterans to help them build their strengths in those areas of coursework, so they can be ready for college level classes.

Once they’re ready, those who want to attend UWF can take advantage of the resources provided by the MVRC, headed by Churchwell.

In addition to the expo, the event will include a symposium providing several noted speakers.

“We’re (going to) do what Americans have done for the last 150 years, which is work hard to ensure peace, stability and global prosperity,” said retired Brigadier Gen. John Adams. He’s been making the rounds lately speaking about the clash of strategies in the South China Sea and made a presentation earlier this month at the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan.

Adams will be the keynote speaker at the symposium.

During his more than 30 years of service in the U.S. Army, he was an aviator, Military Intelligence Officer, and had numerous high level assignments in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

He now lives in Gulf Breeze and works as an independent defense consultant.  Churchwell says Adams was serving as Deputy Director for European Policy in Washington, D. C. on September 11, 2001.

“I’m pretty sure he’s (going to) talk about his experience at the Pentagon,” said Churchwell, noting that Adams was at the Pentagon when 9-11 happened. He also expects the general to discuss the obligations of duty and not just for those currently serving in the military.

“Certainly we’re all bound by duty. But, when you leave the military, really the duty doesn’t end. We still have obligations to serve each other as well as our community and always in support of fellow veterans.”

Picking up on the theme of the event, ‘Strength Through Community Partners,’ Churchwell says he hopes that veterans in attendance will hear the General’s message and be encouraged to become more involved in the region’s many service organizations.

And, for inspiration, there will be a presentation by Iraq War Army Veteran Bryan Anderson, a triple amputee, whose deployment date was on 9-11.

“I was in the shower; I was washing my body and all of a sudden it got in my head ‘I’m half a person,’” said Anderson at a veterans’ conference last year at St. Ambrose University. “Oh my God, I’m half a person.” 

In October of 2005, Anderson was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that resulted in the loss of both legs and his left hand.

“And, I accepted that this was the way that I was now and that allowed me to move on,” Anderson said. “Then, I realized I really don’t want to be a normal guy anymore. I want to be extraordinary or live an extraordinary life.”

Other speakers include Tim Chandler, a Marine veteran, who’ll discuss the value of a service dog companion for veterans experiencing PTSD.

At the end of the day, all the speakers and service organizations are coming together for the single purpose, and that’s to connect veterans and their families with the services they need, regardless of who can provide them.

“They’re gonna be in one place, so you can be talking to someone about a need as a veteran at this event and they’ll say ‘well, two tables down, go talk to them,” said Churchwell pointing out that this is not proprietary. “What we’re doing here is not competing for market share. We’re all doing the same thing. We’re all trying to support veterans the best we can.”

The Greater Pensacola Veteran and Family Symposium and Expo will be held is this Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the UWF Conference Center.  

Waffle House will be providing breakfast and lunch.  Other sponsors include the digital advertise firm EDN, Evergreen Printing, Navy Federal, VITAS Healthcare, and USAA.