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BLOG: Retired Guardsman carves out time for community service

Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
Special to the Nevada Appeal

One of the biggest advantages of National Guard service in comparison to active duty service is the fact non-deployed, reserve-component soldiers and airmen can choose the community in which they reside.

Contrary to their active-duty brethren who are temporarily plopped into a military community by chance and are left to assimilate as much or as little as they wish,

National Guardsmen are in a certain area by choice and have a personal interest in the quality of life in their local surrounding. We work, we play, we socialize, we raise families ” and we perform National Guard duties ” in the community of our choosing.

Today, about 3,800 people in Nevada have raised their right hands and taken an oath of enlistment in the National Guard in this state, essentially volunteering to do whatever is deemed necessary by the president or governor. Thousands more have retired honorably from National Guard service in our state.

Within our Nevada National Guard family, though, are individuals who give more than military service back to their communities.

One of those is Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Walter Willson. At age 69, Willson often seems just as busy today assisting Northern Nevada organizations as he was during the six years he was the Nevada Army Guard’s state command sergeant major from 1984-1990.

There are barely enough days in the week for Willson to schedule time for each of his organizations. In addition to being the state commander of the Disabled American Veterans, he’s a former president of the Carson City Lions Club, he’s a volunteer at the Carson City Senior Center and he’s a member of the American Legion Post 4. In his spare time, he personally assists widows and widowers with the process of receiving their military-spouse benefits.

Willson estimates he volunteers 10 hours per week to his various interests. When he serves as a volunteer driver for the DAV, however, his day may run from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m.

“Some weeks, I would have to say I might be busier than when I was sergeant major,” said Willson, who also works about 10 hours per week in the Nevada National Guard family support office in Carson City. “Often, I get a lot of calls at home. You have to get things done promptly when they need to be done.”

Since retiring from the Guard in 1999, Willson’s passion has been assisting a variety of veterans groups, especially the Disabled American Veterans organization. He is proud of the fact that during his time with the organization, he’s helped the DAV secure enough donations to purchase 10 large vans. Worth about $15,000 apiece, the vans are purchased by the DAV and then given to the Veterans Administration. Maintained by the VA and driven by volunteers, the vans are then used for free transportation for veterans to medical appointments.

“Most of these veterans have no other way to get to the hospital,” Willson said.

Willson noted that with the purchase of the vehicles by the DAV, free van transportation for veterans is now available in Carson City, Gardnerville,

Winnemucca, Fallon, Yerington, Hawthorne and the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area. Most of the donations for the vans came from individuals and ranged from a nickel to hundreds of dollars.

Willson said there’s no finish line when it comes to volunteering.

“It keeps you young to help out others,” Willson said. “As long as I feel good and my heath is good, I’ll continue. You meet a lot of good people when you volunteer.

“Military veterans are like a brotherhood. Veterans helping veterans ” that’s what our motto is.”

For information on how to assist the DAV or to inquire about free van transportation, call Willson at (775) 530-7351.

– Studenicka is a public affairs officer with the Nevada National Guard. Go to nevadaappeal.com/blogs/onguard to read his blog On Guard with Sgt. Stu.