From federal court to individual firms, legal community honors veterans

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

As the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan held its third annual Veterans Day Program, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) honored veterans at the state capitol, and law firm Barnes & Thornburg joined with Bell’s Brewery for a reception honoring veterans that included release of a new beer.

As if all that was not enough, there were state announcements of awards for veteran-friendly businesses and practices, and even a new toolkit to help veterans find work... all in all a positive Veterans Day 2019.

The program honoring veterans at the District Court for the Western District keeps growing every year. A large crowd filled the room in the Gerald R. Ford federal courthouse Nov. 7, and was treated to a cake (ceremonially cut by veterans Clay West and Ed Van Portfliet from the court),  and hors d’oeuvres, remarks by Court of Appeals Judge James Redford, and a fascinating and stirring keynote speech by Capt. Eric McElvenny, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.).

Capt. McElvenny lost his right leg when he stepped on an IED?(Improvised Explosive Device) while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2011. But for McElvenny, that was nothing like the end of the story.

This summary may makes it sound  inspirational, but also grim. However, McElvenny was a relaxed and amusing speaker. He joked that he decided to write a school-assigned career report on the military at his dad’s suggestion and on the U.S. Marine Corps specifically because “I thought the Marine Corps had the best commercials on television,” he said. “A guy climbing a mountain with no shirt on, that was cool to me.”

He started out talking about how, after the injury, his former commander issued him a challenge to run a marathon. Wanting always to exceed expectations, he decided to participate in the Iron Man, a grueling swim-bike-run triathlon. As he gained more and more strength in getting by without his leg, McElvenny signed up for an Iron Man event in Hawaii. But then, after finishing the 2.4 mile swim and the 112-mile biking race, he bogged down about 18 miles into the running phase, with about eight miles more to go. His prosthetic leg was bothering him and he sat down by the side of the course and took it off.

Leaving the crowd at the Federal Court program wondering how it all ended, McElvenny then talked about his background, how he felt about life, and what it was like to lose his leg.

He emphasized the importance of teamwork and placing others above oneself as he told about the rapid response to his injury – a helicopter arrived within seven minutes. Recovering in San Diego, he was inspired by his very positive, down-to-earth daughter, and others, to give it his all.

And ultimately, that was his decision about the Iron Man competition. After an inspiring word from a former competitor who passed by on a moped, charged with energizing those with flagging spirts, McElvenny got up and finished the race.

“As I’m sitting on the side of the road, my question was not, ‘Am I going to finish this race?’ It was, ‘How am I going to finish this race?’” He has since finished many more.

Judge James Redford, now a Michigan Court of Appeals Judge, formerly a Kent County District Court Judge and the former director of the MVAA, concluded the program with closing remarks, but not without first acknowledging how difficult it was to follow someone like Capt. McElvenny.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Robert Jonker asked Redford, himself formerly on active duty in the Judge Advocate General corps of the U.S. Navy, to give some remarks.“I think one of the things that makes America remarkable is that we for generation after generation for 243 years, we have produced sons and daughters of this republic like this fine Marine Corps captain,” Judge Redford said, referring to McElvenny.

Redford then went on to list some of the many well-known people associated with the Western District court who had served in the military, reminding those present that when veterans return from their military deployment, “Our watch is not done.”

Later that day, law firm Barnes & Thornburg hosted Bell’s Brewery to celebrate the Grand Rapids veteran community. The event, held at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, featured Bell’s debuting a new coffee milk stout beer  called “Goin’ Dark,” created by Bells staff who are serving or have served in the military, or are military family.

Barnes & Thornburg’s Chief Operating Office and military veteran, Steve Merkel; CSM (Ret.) David Dunckel, a strategy specialist at the MVAA; and Paul Dragicevich, a Bell’s Brewery employee and veteran, gave remarks at a brief program.

At the state level, the MVAA and the  Department of Military and Veterans Affairs held three events honoring veterans – one in Marquette, one in Lansing, and one in Wayne County. Zaneta Adams, current MVAA director (and an attorney in her own right), stated, “Our commitment is owed to our veterans 24/7, 365 days a year. As the central resource agency for all Michigan veterans and their families, the MVAA is dedicated to supporting veterans from all walks of life, through all phases of their life.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer spoke at the Lansing event. Leading up to it, she commented, “Michigan veterans represent all ages, genders, races, eras of conflict and branches of service. Whether you’re a recent law school graduate who survived being a POW, a mother of three who proudly served her country in Afghanistan or an active-duty veteran who continues serving in the National Guard, we owe all veterans our deepest gratitude for their service and sacrifices.”

The Whitmer administration gave out awards to veteran-friendly schools and businesses. Bell’s Brewery announced that it has just been added to the list, which also includes Barfly Adventures, SpartanNash, Ford, GE, and Xpress Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids.

To see a full list of veteran-friendly employers, visit https://www.michiganveterans.com/a/Become-a-Veteran-Friendly-Employer 

In addition, the United States government awarded a HIRE Vets Medallion to six companies from Michigan. This elite list includes local company Stiles Machinery at the Gold Level.

Also this year, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs  launched a comprehensive online tool to help explain the specific licensing resources provided to members of the armed forces. To view it, visit www.michigan.gov/lara/0,4601,7-154-10573_95401---,00.html

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