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Veterans Day: It's all about 'coming home'

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

Army veteran William Birchall has a new appreciation of life following a volunteer trip in late August with the Alaska Adventure Project.

The program, started by a Marine infantry machine gunner, is intended to benefit veterans that have injuries from military service, from physically capable to fully disabled.

"I guarantee that veterans will benefit from this program," Birchall said. "It will build mindfulness, confidence and accomplishment when there may be mental and/or physical issues."

A Fallbrook contractor, Birchall said his trip impacted him in many ways. "To keep it simple, I'd say I have higher expectations of myself and what I'm capable of," he said. "I feel refreshed and recharged with a more positive outlook on my life. I have gotten back that feeling of comrades and teamwork and helping others."

The trip allowed him time to experience the outdoor adventures of Alaska while connecting with fellow veterans who could really use support and friendship.

This Veteran's Day, take the time to thank people who served, Birchall said.

"Many military service members of all generations of our great country have sacrificed so much in fighting our wars, protecting our freedoms, rights and security," he noted. "Some that didn't make it home. Some that didn't get to hug loved ones, parents, kids. Many of them are just leaving a piece of themselves behind. Losing a friend, a limb, their minds or their families. Whatever it was, remember, we all deployed. We are all United States Military Veterans. We are all family. But you know what makes us still very fortunate? We're all still alive! We all still have the chance to live our lives to the best of our abilities."

"We all can actually say we made it home or still have the opportunity to make it 'home.' Yes, we all fought different fights and battles, but we did or are still fighting the same wars," Birchall continued. "So, continue to reach out to each other. Simply call someone, text, whatever it is. Stay connected. Never for one second think your family, friends and battles don't count. They do! We are all here to help or simply just talk. Life's an adventure, go do it!"

The Army veteran of the 82nd airborne division, 2001-2005, had two deployments with Operation Iraqi Freedom. The first was with the invasion force in March 2003, serving in areas of operation such as An-Najaf, as Sammawah, Iskandaria and many more. He was attached to small elements of 7th Special Forces group and civilian EOD techs, seeking out weapons of mass destruction and ammunition caches, as well as consolidation-destruction, force security and prisoner detentions.

His second deployment in September 2004 was to Al Anbar Province, an area of operation spanning over 180,000 square kilometers. He logged over 4,500 miles in convoys and over 80 combat patrols. This mission consisted of assessing 54 suspected enemy caches, capturing and destroying approximately 11.8 million rounds of munitions totaling over 54,000 short tons. Birchall said this mission helped deny enemy forces the ability to conduct coordinated attacks against coalition forces and reduced small arms and IED attacks by an estimated 37%.

It's the type of experience that has been difficult for many with issues like PTSD.

In 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs' study on veteran suicide concluded that 22 veterans a day take their own lives. That's 8,030 veterans annually.

"This is a shocking number that many find hard to believe, but together we can help reduce veteran suicide," Birchall said. "If we are going to successfully stop veteran suicide, we have to address the issues that are at the root of the problem."

He identified the issues as depression, survivor's guilt, self-blame for mission failure, impaired thinking caused by alcohol or substance abuse, an altered worldview due to PTSD, and traumatic brain injury.

Birchall is involved in several veteran community projects including the Daniel Ferguson Memorial Foundation and Sheepdog Strong.

"I'll always be a part of the Alaska Adventure Project, supporting it by volunteering for anything the organization will need help with," he said. "I have also pledged monetary donations to the organization on an annual basis moving forward."

AAP participants are from various regions of the United States and backgrounds of military service, he said. The majority are local to Southern California.

"Now that I am back from the Alaska Adventure Project, I've had time to reflect on how powerful the experience was for me. I feel refreshed, recharged and highly motivated. This experience has humbled me and has made me want to live my life to the fullest. Being in the presence of each other, the adventures, the memories and the stories we all shared have re-opened my eyes to the meaning of coming home."

The founder of the Alaska Adventure Project is local USMC veteran Billy Boulton, whose vision and dedication to the project is why it exists to this day. A big part of the organization's management and support system is Will Picquelle, owner of Temecula Roofing Co. and Fallbrook High School graduate, class of 1989.

"Will is a big supporter of the local military and veteran community," Birchall said. "We call him 'The Patriot.' His support is instrumental in the success of the Alaska adventure project."

For more information, contact Birchall by email at [email protected]. Picquelle, the AAP director, can be reached at [email protected] or 909-821-4774.


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