Senator Kent Leonhardt
Charleston Gazette Mail – 10/15/2015

West Virginia boasts the highest number of veterans per capita in the United States. Currently, one in nine West Virginians have served in the United States Military.  Many of our neighbors, friends and fellow Mountaineers have put their life on the line to serve our great country. As a twenty-year Marine Veteran myself, I understand the call to duty very well and how rewarding the experience can be. Although I also understand the sacrifice and hardship every veteran faces after returning home from active duty, without the proper support structure, the mightiest of American warriors can fall. West Virginia has a duty to make sure this does not happen by taking care of our veterans.

The transition to civilian life can be extremely hard at times, leading to questioning purpose and a feeling of hopelessness. We should help those veterans in any way possible in their transition once home to ease these burdens. Agriculture can and has been a successful tool in helping our veterans by giving those veterans a job with structure and purpose. The Agriculture Department should expand the “Vets to AG” program established in 2014, giving the program the necessary resources required to help many of our veterans across the state.

I have personally have been involved with this program.  My fellow veterans have found peace in their transition back to civilian life through this program.  There are some who are already making a good living in addition to improving their outlook on life in general. While the initial focus of Vets to Ag is the healing process for post-traumatic stress, it can do wonders for any veteran facing a transition from military life to civilian careers.

For me, farming was something I decided to do long before I retired from active duty.  After leading men and women in peace and war for twenty years I wanted something on which to focus my time and effort. In 1982, while still on active duty, I purchased and started part-time rebuilding a farm near Fairview, West Virginia.  My wife, Shirley, and I put our full effort into the farm upon my retirement from the Marine Corps in 1996.  Together we restored and expanded a farm that had been abandoned since 1957.  From making a decaying 1890 farm house livable, to putting up new fences, and building a barn by ourselves, I found my new purpose in life, being a farmer, and raising the fresh healthy food our citizens need.

My years as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines, and now a farmer and state senator, have fully prepared me to lead our Agriculture Department. A top priority is to modernize and expand agriculture in West Virginia, and included in that plan is making sure we take care of our service men and women. We must provide stable opportunities to those men and women returning home. Our state government needs a watch dog and a salesman for our veterans; who better than a fellow veteran to make sure his brothers and sisters are not forgotten. Let’s expand opportunities for our veterans in order to allow them to heal. At the same time they can also provide the healthy foods to our citizens.  Let’s take care of the men and women who have served our country, who will in turn enjoy taking care of us.

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