This article was originally published on GoErie.com by Jay Breneman on November 9th, 2014.
For those of us who served in the United States military, the term "Permanent Change of Station," can bring back memories of hope, excitement and perhaps some nervousness. A Permanent Change of Station meant a move from one military community (base) to another, usually precipitated by needs of the military, but sometimes negotiated by the military member. The hope stems from an opportunity of personal and professional advancement, while the excitement comes from the chance to explore a new place, meet new colleagues and make new friends. The nervous feelings one might get from such a move comes from the unknown: Is this going to be a good place to go? How will I deal with the weather? Will the job be difficult? Are there fun things to do? Will I get along with those I will work with? Will I make a good impression? Many bring their families, meaning that their spouses and children must face similar unknowns. Even in shorter military careers, such moves are quite common: Most military members can expect to spend time at two or three separate bases (or more), sometimes a world apart. In short, packing up and moving everything to a new place is part and parcel of the military experience. But moving out of the military is also part of the experience, and it is about to affect a great many sooner than later. Recent plans -- particularly from the drawdowns after 13 years at war -- show that the U.S. Department of Defense could reduce our military by more than 100,000 service members over the remainder of this decade. While many are likely to return to their hometown, they are just as likely to relocate somewhere in a different part of the country, based on a combination of economic, recreational or educational opportunities. I want to see Erie-area natives in the military have a reason to return home -- and furthermore, I want to give a reason for the hundreds, or thousands, of the soon-to-be-discharged military members to choose the Erie area as their new home. We have a lot to offer already: many amazing institutions of higher learning where they can use their GI Bill to get an undergraduate or graduate degree in a field of their choosing; a plethora of year-round recreational activities; boundless volunteer and service opportunities; many great veteran organizations to help them get connected; and a world-class Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Vet Center. Just as our region has a lot to offer them, we have a lot to gain from an influx of veterans. A rise in our veteran population would mean a rise in our skilled workforce, growth in homeownership and a reinforcement of service-oriented citizens. But we cannot simply adopt a "veteran-friendly" motto and expect veterans to flock here. There is work to be done. We need to see the successful development of the Veterans Council of Erie County. This is an effort that many veteran organizations have supported, and I believe we will be successful in building a proactive and unified effort among leaders to address veteran issues countywide. Through the Veterans Council, we can initiate studies on our veteran population, establish protocols to assist area employers in hiring veterans, improve college-readiness and graduation rates for veterans, devise housing initiatives to encourage veteran homeownership in neighborhoods that need it most, simplify access to veteran support systems and services, and create an efficient method for identifying and communicating with the veterans who relocate to Erie County. Erie County government will need to be a major player in moving this forward, and this means enhancing the services, capacity, and outreach of our Erie County Veterans Office to better meet the needs of the more than 23,000 veterans who currently reside here, and the many more we hope will relocate here. Once we have a unified front on serving our veterans countywide, then we could take the proactive approach of visiting and advertising in military communities across the country, hosting information fairs on why veterans should consider Erie County as their next home. These efforts would make Erie County a leader in serving our nation's veterans. I believe this is a goal we should embrace, not because we have the civic responsibility to help our veterans, but because we recognize the historic and enduring economic and social impact veterans have in sustaining and revitalizing our communities. Let's welcome our veterans home, to Erie County. JAY BRENEMAN, who represents Erie County Council's 4th District, lives in Erie with his wife, Jamie, and their two children. A licensed social worker, he has a master's in social administration from Case Western University. He served in the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2009, including two tours in Iraq (firstname.lastname@example.org).