Kim Canipe, a Marine Corps veteran who served during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and her fellow veterans watched the Aberdeen IronBirds take on the Staten Island Yankees Thursday evening at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium.
The night of baseball was a treat from the members of the Abingdon Elks-BPOE 2354 for veterans receiving in-patient care at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville.
“It gets us out of the in-patient setting for a little while and makes us feel like we’re human again,” Canipe, 46, said. “You see the same four walls all the time; it’s good to get out and experience reality every once in a while.”
The Lancaster, Pa. resident said she served in the Marines from 1990 to 1992 and was deployed to Saudi Arabia from November of 1990 to May 1991. She was stationed in the Port of Jubail, which is along the Persian Gulf.
Canipe said she was a mechanic, working on Humvee jeeps, trucks and the “Dragon Wagon.” The latter is the nickname for the MK 48 Logistic Vehicle System, a “tactical truck” used to move heavy equipment and supplies, according to the Military-Today website. The sloped cab reminded Canipe and her fellow Marines of a dragon’s head, she said.
Canipe said she is being treated at Perry Point for post-traumatic stress disorder connected to her service — she was not in combat during Operation Desert Storm, but was still in danger, recalling incidents such as when Iraqi SCUD missiles struck near Jubail.
“I’m proud of myself for getting help,” she said. “It’s taken me a lot of years.”
Elks support veterans
The Abingdon Elks, a community fraternal organization, puts on multiple events for veterans living at Perry Point each year, both at the medical center and the Elks lodge along the Bush River.
Thirty Elks members were at the game Thursday with 31 veterans, plus Perry Point staff. The Elks treated the veterans to a picnic-style dinner on the deck overlooking left field and socialized with them as they watched the IronBirds defeat the Yankees, 6-2.
“The hope is just to get them some socialization with some people that they don’t spend time with every day, some real conversation, meet new people and make some friends,” Ron Vasold, vice president of the Elks lodge, said.
His wife, Rae, is the lodge president. She said the goal is “to just appreciate the veterans for what they’ve done for our country.”
The lodge used half of a $1,200 grant from the Elks National Foundation, along with contributions from lodge members, to fund the outing, Ron Vasold said.
The other half of the grant will go toward the Elks’ Pets for Vets program to place pets from animal shelters with veterans to be their service animals, Vasold said.
Ron Vasold is a veteran, having served in the Navy from 1986 to 1992. He was on a ballistic missile submarine that patrolled the ocean during the Gulf War.
He was one of several Elks members present Thursday who are veterans. The lodge put together “welcome home kits” for incoming residents of the new 75-unit HELP Veterans Village housing facility at Perry Point, according to the Vasolds. Gov. Larry Hogan took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at the Veterans Village.
Elks members put together at least 50 of the kits, which contained items such as sheets, blankets and cleaning supplies, according to Rae Vasold.
Ron Vasold cited an Elks motto: “So long as there are veterans, the Elks will never forget them.”
The Abingdon Elks perform community service for schools in Harford County, homeless shelters and work with children with disabilities. For more information, visit http://www.abingdonelks.com.
‘Keeping my hope alive’
Canipe and other veterans at Thursday night’s game declined to say what they are being treated for at Perry Point, but they spoke highly of the medical center’s services.
Perry Point provides an array of inpatient, outpatient and primary medical care services on its 400-acre campus overlooking where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay. It has the largest inpatient facility in the VA’s Maryland Health Care System, according to its website.
“By being here at Perry Point, I will be better to deal and cope with my life for the rest of my days,” Army veteran Aaron Pack Sr. said.
Pack, 60, served in the Army, working in field artillery, from 1978 to 1984. He said he was injured while in the service, although he declined to go into detail.
“From those injures, I have trauma-related prolonged exposure issues,” Pack said.
The Baltimore City resident has been at Perry Point since June 14, He said the staff “are doing a darned good job” of caring for him.
“I’m getting the best treatment that I can, for me to be fully capable of managing for the rest of my days, even with some of the military-related issues that I live with,” he said.
Pack wore around his neck a blue dog tag bearing the name and contact information of Organization of Hope, a Prince George’s County-based community service organization. He said he found the tag on the ground in Baltimore.
He also wore a pin on his shirt that had multiple colored ribbons and the word “hope” on it. Pack said a woman from a VFW ladies’ auxiliary in Chase in Baltimore County gave him the pin when she visited Perry Point, bringing supplies and gifts to the veterans.
“It’s just a thing I wear,” Pack said. “For me, that is just a talisman, if you will, a reminder for keeping my hope alive.”
Pack stressed that he was not telling his story for himself.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s for the veterans and the families of veterans coming behind me.”
Veterans Chris Chinn, 29, and Brad Wescott, 28, stood at the deck railing, watching the game and cheering when the IronBirds got a hit.
Wescott, an Annapolis resident, served in the Army from 2008 to 2012. He was an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division and was deployed to Afghanistan twice.
“They were awesome,” he said of the Elks. “It was great of them to do this for us.”
Chinn, a resident of Shady Side in Anne Arundel County, was in the Navy from 2012 to 2016. He served in the South Pacific on the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.
Michelle Burns, a health technician in Perry Point’s Domicillary, noted the benefits of outings such as Thursday’s event.
“It’s really good for [the veterans], because it helps them find their way back out into the community,” she said.
The Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation Treatment center supports homeless veterans, according to the Perry Point website.
The Vasolds talked with Marine Corps veteran Richard Durham, 56, who was in the service from 1980 to 1984. He said he has survived a stroke and cancer.
“For [the Elks] to come to the VA and to bring us out here ... I thank these guys, because we wouldn’t have been able to do it without you,” Durham said, gripping Ron Vasold’s arm.
Vasold replied that the Elks could not do what they do without the veterans, noting their sacrifices for the nation.
“We applaud everything you’ve done,” Rae Vasold added.