Normally, I don’t offer advice to politicians but if I were Mayor Lenny Curry, I’d be patching up my relations with military veterans while heading into an election.
Whether through ignorance or whatever, Curry – who has no military service background- – has antagonized local vets, and there are a lot of them.
An estimated 80,000 people in the area are military veterans.
An organization called Vets4Vets of Northeast Florida has been active here for the past five years, and the founder of the organization is Bob Adelhelm, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel. An infantry recon officer, Adelhelm also was trained in logistics and was working at the Blount Island facility here when he retired in 1995 after 22 years.
Adelhelm told Eye on Jacksonville he does not think Curry understands that the concerns of veterans are not the same as the concerns of active military personnel, and that Curry focuses solely on those currently serving.
Although council members, like former Navy captain and current Council President Aaron Bowman, have spoken to the group, Curry has not, Adelhelm said.
Furthermore, Adelhelm says Curry’s choice to head the Military Affairs and Veterans Office, former Navy commander Bill Spann, has shown little interest in the concerns of veterans.
We called Spann, but in accordance with the dictates of Curry’s Wall, which prohibits anyone but Curry’s highly paid public relations people from talking to the press, Spann declined to talk to us.
Vets4Vets has a number of complaints, such as the fact that there is no veteran’s hospital in Jacksonville.
One major gripe is the Veterans Memorial Wall, Adelhelm says has turned into “a political prop.” It has names on it of people who are not even from Jacksonville, or who were not killed in combat. “Being shot in a domestic dispute doesn’t make you a fallen hero,” he said.
As an example of how arbitrary the city has been on adding names to the wall, Adelhelm says Marines in the community attempted to get the late Marine Sgt. Randall Hansen, a Jacksonville native and Fletcher HS graduate with two combat tours in Iraq, added to the wall. The request was denied because the Marine, who suffered from severe PTSD, did not die while on active duty. The request, however, was made after there were several exceptions made to the criteria to add others to the wall — exceptions that included death not on active duty in one case and several others who did not have a Home of Record in Jacksonville and didn’t serve in combat or theater of combat.
The city’s Web site says: “All those named on the Wall perished during a time of declared war and listed Jacksonville … as their home of record or graduated from a local high school.”
Adelhelm maintains that the founder of the wall intended for the criteria for inclusion on the wall to be persons born in Jacksonville or attending high school here. The city added a requirement that the person must die while on active duty during a war, Adelhelm said.
At one point there were talks with Curry’s previous chief of staff, but nothing happened afterward, so the veterans remain stymied.