Local veterans share their stories for Veteran’s Day

The veterans who have served our country come from all walks of life. They are friends, children, parents, neighbors, coworkers, grandparents and business owners. Some suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), some were medically discharged and aren’t able to do as much as they once were, and some just try to enjoy their free lives. No matter where our veteran’s came from, what they’re doing now, or what they’ll do in the future, each have served our country in a way that most of us will never be able to repay.

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day, in which people took the time to honor and celebrate all of our veterans.

Veteran’s Day originated as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance and it became a national holiday in 1938. President Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday to Veteran’s Day in 1954, according to history.com.

“Veteran’s Day pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but especially give thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime,” the website reads.

Some of the brave men and women living in Yukon shared their story about their military experiences.

Each story is different and will not contain even some of the main details. The veterans were able to share whatever they’d like about their experience to make sure they were comfortable with what was being published.

Melissa Secrest

Melissa Secrest grew up in a military family. Her dad, Bill Secrest, and both of her brothers, John and Travis Secrest, each served. Her dad was in the army in the 1970s then got out for about 19 years before joining the Oklahoma Army National Guard when her brothers joined the military in the late 1990s. Bill and John were deployed to Bosnia for a peacekeeping mission in 2000, then in 2003 Bill, John and Travis left for Kuwait then to Iraq for the first push into the country. In 2005, they all went to help with the relief for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Melissa joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard in 2007. She left for Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom where she did detainee operations at Camp Copper.

“I had the privilege to be deployed with my dad and oldest brother John, unfortunately we were in separate areas of Iraq,” Melissa said. “However, I did get to see them for about a week at Camp Bucca.”

Melissa, John and Travis were deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. While in Afghanistan, she began dating her boyfriend, James Herman, who was a K9 handler.

“Upon returning home from Afghanistan, we decided to make Yukon our home,” Melissa said. “We bought a house and now James’ K9 bomb detection Dog Deny, who served in Afghanistan with him, has retired and is living the best life ever with us here in Yukon.

Keith Snelling

Keith Snelling is a veteran who was medically discharged due to a shoulder injury in December 1993.

Snelling started off with the National Guard in El Reno, then went to the Gulf War with a unit out of Lawton. He went active duty after the Persian Gulf. He went from field artillery to petroleum, oil and lubricants.

“Personally I love the military, not so much now-a-days,” Snelling said. “When I was in the military, the soldier had some importance and the way I see a lot of it from my perspective now, you’re replaceable. But the military did wonders for me. It took a guy straight off the farm at 17-years-old that when he first joined the military was a total screw up.”

Snelling said working on the farm, he was always doing his own thing with his farm work and joining the military taught him the importance of teamwork.

“From my previous statement, people have told me I have hard feelings toward the military. No, I don’t. Honestly, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing—except for maybe flipping a motorcycle,” Snelling said.

Snelling has been a resident of Yukon for almost 13 years.

“If you would have ever told me growing up that a guy from El Reno would be living in Yukon, I would’ve called you a liar,” Snelling said. “As far as the people of Yukon, I’ve had nothing but great experiences [as a veteran]. They’re very accepting, thankful and a lot of times grateful.”

Snelling said he’s only had one bad experience where a guy and his children spit on him while at a business on Main Street.

“All the guy told me was, ‘The United States has no right being in all the foreign countries we’re in,’” Snelling said. “For the most part, I do agree that there are a lot of countries we have no business in. As far as the Gulf War goes, I get asked all the time, ‘why do you think we were there?’ My answer to that is ‘Because I was told to be there.’

“I spent roughly ten years in the military and my job was to go where I was told to go and shoot who I was told to shoot.”

Snelling said a late friend of his who was a Vietnam War veteran would write down that he was a hired assassin on his resume or job applications because he shot who he was told to shoot and that’s what you’re trained to.

He said the interesting thing about the military is a lot of the time they make you take a class on how to adjust to civilian life, but they don’t teach how to handle not being given orders what to do daily.

“It probably took me 10 years trying to be able to deal with civilian life,” Snelling said. “In the military, you’re told what time you have to be in formation and what time the day is over, and you know that every day. It’s a tough adjusting period to go from being in a very structured environment to going to an environment where you’re told what to do, but don’t have somebody checking over your shoulder 24 hours a day.”

Snelling offered some advice for people interested in going into the military.

One piece of advice was to be careful of what career path they choose to take while in it.

“Unfortunately, I chose a career path in the military that has absolutely no use in civilian practice,” Snelling said. “If I would have someone warn me or tell me, I would have chosen a totally different path. I would’ve chosen what I enjoy to do now, which is mechanic work.”

Snelling said one thing he did learn from the military was how to drive big trucks. He drove 18 wheelers, including at his most-recent job, which he left about two weeks ago because it was too hard on his shoulder.

“For the last two weeks, I’ve been playing Suzy Homemaker,” Snelling laughed. “I mean I love to cook. I’m not so big on cleaning, but it has to be done.

“My wife has been tickled the last two weeks—I baked her favorite chocolate cake and a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls, and she tells me what she wants for dinner the night before and she gets it for dinner the next night.”

Snelling said he’s also spent more time on his motorcycle in the last two weeks than in the last year, and he’s got to spend a lot more time with family.

“I basically feel like I’ve been retired for the last two weeks,” Snelling said. “Nothing to do but the want to do everything.”

The other piece of advice is to remember that the military will only be there for a little while.

“Your family, your wife, your kids—if you pay attention to them and remember that they are the permanent feature in your life and spend the quality time you can with them, then adjusting to civilian life is a lot easier,” Snelling said.

Snelling added that this was the first time since getting out of the military that he’s felt like it’s okay to talk about it.

Zachary Dennis

Zachary Dennis is an army veteran. He served for four years and did one tour to Afghanistan.

Dennis joined the military in 2008 and did his basic training in Kentucky. He joined as an 88M, which a motor transport operator. After that he did his advanced individual training (AIT) in Missouri before being stationed in North Carolina for six to seven months before being deployed to Afghanistan.

While in Afghanistan, Dennis transported troops, supplies, equipment, etc. He was also in a Rig unit, in which they rigged water, supplies, equipment and more to be airdropped to those who were in too high of danger zones for them to be transported through convoy, he explained.

Dennis did a few patrols, as well, but said he didn’t feel comfortable getting into any of the details about those.

“I will say this… While we were on base, every day we were getting hit with mortars constantly then 30 minutes after my plane took off to come back to the states, my base was invaded,” Dennis said. “We lost 15 special forces.”

After coming back to the U.S., Dennis continued to do his job. He transported parachutes for air operations.

Dennis got out of the military in 2012, and is currently doing access controls (Security).

He suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD.

“The PTSD really relates to not knowing if you’re going to live the next day with how active it was when I was overseas,” Dennis said. “One scenario I will share with you is I was on a convoy, and it was supposed to be a smooth convoy, it wasn’t in a hostile area at all, but within 15 minutes of being outside the wire I was driving and my lieutenant was in the passenger seat and he took a bullet through his neck.”

Due to TBI and PTSD, it was difficult for Dennis to talk about his experience.

“His battle with PTSD is difficult and ongoing,” Zachary’s wife Kayla Dennis said.

Dennis said his time in the military has taught him honor, respect, loyalty and a strong work ethic.

“I feel like America is very, at least somewhat, supportive of our troops and being overseas, but at the same time, there is a huge concern to me that they aren’t 100 percent supportive. I’ve talked to a few people and heard a few people ask ‘why are we over there?’ and ‘are we even doing any good when we’re over there?’ It’s kind of hard to answer when you’ve seen your friends get hurt because you want to think you’re over there for a good reason and that you’re not over there just because of the power,” Dennis said. “What I’m trying to say is as Americans who aren’t in the military, that aren’t involved in the military, and that aren’t fully educated on the war, that they should be more educated about the war before they are too fast to speak negative about us.”

Dennis has been living in Yukon for about three and a half years.

“I’ve always enjoyed it,” he said. “The people of Yukon have been positive. The people I’ve talked to, I have not received any negative feedback.”

Dennis offered some advice for people interested in going into the military.

“Keep your head up, never give up, watch your six, and always keep your brother in mind,” he said.

Rick Cacini

Rick Cacini is a veteran. He’s also the curator for the Yukon Veterans Museum, a Yukon Chamber board member, a board member for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children, a part of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, a member of the Yukon Rotary Club, a faculty manager for the liaison office of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol, and much more.

“I want to start off by thanking the citizens of Yukon, the council and the new city manager for taking care of the veterans in the respect of the Veterans Museum, and I think that’s a step in the right direction,” Cacini said. “The Veterans Museum is going to hold the history of all our veterans in Yukon so that the generations to come will see what they have accomplished. That’s a great step.”

The Veterans Museum will be opening in the next few weeks. The ribbon cutting will be hosted on Dec. 3, but Cacini said they will be trying to open before then to get everything lined up.

“I’m still putting the words out to veterans out there,” Cacini said. “So many of them still have a lot of artifacts that are in their home, and instead of letting it go to waste or being disposed of, put in the Veterans Museum so the new generations coming in can see what they’ve done in the various combat zones that we’ve been in as a country.”

Cacini said he’s proud to have served for the military for more than 37 years.

“Chasing bad people in Central and South America, chasing bad people in 42 of the 54 countries of Africa, chasing bad people in Middle East, and doing two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Bosnia chasing some bad people there,” he said. “That’s one of the things that I’ve got in the museum. The fact that the bad people put my name in their paper and started coming after me so it’s a little quirky where here I’m chasing bad people then all of the sudden the bad people are chasing me. Naturally, it became a little nervy to say the least.”

Cacini has lived in Yukon for 26 years. He said he’s happy to be a Yukon resident and seeing the citizens go out of their way to help veterans.

He added that being a part of the Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Canadian County, they’re still looking for places to house veterans so if anyone has any suggestions, contact Cacini at [email protected]

“Right now all I’m doing is giving back to my community,” Cacini said. “I’m retired city, federal and three times from the Army so I’m right now just giving back by the various organizations I’m a part of. I’ve got a lot of jobs that are just volunteer jobs. It’s thrilling for me to be able to be home and work with a community that supported my family when I was away.”

If anyone is interested in joining the military or a veteran is in need, Cacini is a good person to contact for more information.

Veteran’s Day is special, but our veterans are special every day so make sure to continue to honor them in any way possible.

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