The Marion Council on Aging’s “Vet Together” luncheon held Monday at the Cushing Community Center was a festive occasion in which veterans from the town heard from Christopher Gerrior, a recently retired Naval officer and the Tri-Town’s new veterans services officer.
The meet-and-greet, a first step in the wake of Barry Denham’s retirement from the post (and his job as Mattapoisett’s highway surveyor), was well attended, but Gerrior couldn’t help noticing the absence of veterans younger than himself (46).
“The Gen-Xers and the Millennials, even though we have served, not as many of us are getting the benefits or services. I’m trying to bring in younger and middle-aged people, that is my goal,” said Gerrior, who estimates that the number of veterans in the Tri-Town is in the hundreds.
Rochester, where Gerrior lives, has over 200 veterans. “But I don’t know them all by name. There’s very few ways for us to reach out to them without knowing who they are,” he said. “Even if they don’t have a need, I’d like to meet them … and match up the need with the person or the program with the person.”
That’s what Gerrior hopes to do in each of the three towns.
A busy Rochester resident who now chairs the town’s Conservation Commission, Gerrior joined the Navy after graduating with the ORR Class of 1993. Before serving 12 years in Intelligence, he served 12 years as an enlisted member working in aviation, including time on an aircraft carrier and seeing duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on the Pacific Ocean.
He spent a year as a leading petty officer at the Fleet Imaging Center Pacific Hawaii at Pearl Harbor, four years as a sensor operator and Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) instructor in Kaneohe, Hawaii, two years as photographer for the chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C., and five years as an aircrew photographer in Barbers Point, Hawaii.
Gerrior said many veterans more readily identify with enlisted veterans, so he makes a point of emphasizing those 12 years of his service over the subsequent 12 years as an officer. He feels fortunate to be working with Jo-Ann O’Malley, who has spent the last four years as the Mattapoisett Veterans Office assistant. O’Malley keeps hours in the Veterans Office at Mattapoisett Town Hall on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Gerrior, who keeps office hours there on Wednesdays, is focusing on getting the word out on the remaining 2021 key dates such as Independence Day, July 4, and Veterans Day, November 11. His message to younger veterans is to avail themselves to education, benefits, tax advantages, and even free shellfish licenses.
“There are so many benefits for veterans, not depending on their age,” he said.
Marion’s Independence Day Parade Committee and the Department of Public Works has invited veterans of all ages from the Tri-Town to ride on their float in the town’s Independence Day parade, which will be held on Monday, July 5. Call 508-748-3515 by July 2 to reserve a spot.
“My goal is to fill up that float,” said Gerrior, who invites all Tri-Town veterans to call him on Wednesdays at 508-758-4100 ext. 7, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mick Colageo