Military service members from the past and present came together this past week with those who are preparing for a future career in the military to discuss lessons learned, leadership and other complexities facing the ever-changing battlefield of the future.
The Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) of the Seneca Battalion of St. Bonaventure University gathered with veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam at Moonwinks restaurant for Movie and a Vet night in Cuba on Thursday. The event was conceived a few years ago by retired U.S. Army general and Cuba resident Arthur G. Austin Jr. to assist future leaders of the military attending the ROTC program at St. Bonaventure.
The Seneca Battalion is comprised of the ROTC programs from the University at Pittsburgh at Bradford, SUNY Alfred State College of Technology, Alfred University, Houghton College, Jamestown Community College and St. Bonaventure.
On hand to lend their knowledge of experience as officers during the Vietnam War were retired Lt. Col. Bob Shook of the Army and retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Richard Anderson.
“Programs like these are invaluable in ensuring that the lessons learned from conflicts past are implemented in the future,” Austin says, referring to having the two Vietnam veterans in attendance.
Using the backdrop of the box office film “We were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson and portraying the first major engagement between U.S. forces and the North Vietnamese regular army in the Vietnam War, the soon-to-be Army officers were able to ask questions and gain insight about military life from their guests.
Austin says the film was fitting in that it addressed many issues beyond battle that are relative to the 1960s and current times, such as racial intolerance, an issue Austin identified as key to changing the venue from where the program had been held in previous years.
“There is a scene where Lt. Col. Hal Moore, played by Mel Gibson, talks to his troops about the varied backgrounds they came from to become a unit and family of one,” Austin says. “There are misguided veterans and veteran clubs in our local community that could learn from these young troops in their understanding and expression of values in today’s military.”
The program, in its third year, has seen a host of veteran supporters “who get it,” according to Austin, such as Terry Leonard, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Navy’s nuclear submarine group during the Vietnam War, and John Koubek, an Army 1st Cavalry Division veteran who served in the same area portrayed in “We Were Soldiers.”.
Austin says there are others, “too many to be mentioned here, who have assisted with the 'Movie and a Vet' night program, as it is referred to, as well as other programs such as the Memorial Day celebration and commissioning program where these young troops receive their second lieutenant bars.”
Any veteran who would like to assist in the programs Austin is involved in may contact him through the Cuba Chamber of Commerce on 5 W. Main St., Cuba, N.Y., (585) 968-5654.