Battle on the home front: Center hopes to ease transition for veterans coming home

A group of veterans is hoping to ease the transition for veterans coming home.
A group of veterans is hoping to ease the transition for veterans coming home.(Courtesy photo)
Updated: Nov. 11, 2021 at 9:59 AM EST
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BAY CITY, Mich. (WNEM) - Being in the Air Force took Andrea Norton all around the world, always working with a team toward the same mission.

“I deployed to Afghanistan in 2005,” she said.

Working as an intelligence analyst, Norton helped identify things seen on satellite images.

“I helped keep pilots safe, really,” she said. “I helped them identify threats and know what they were looking at when they were flying.”

After eight years, it was time for the Bay City native to come home. Little did she know, it would be her toughest mission yet.

“I did have a lot of struggles when I got out,” Norton said. “I was isolated, I was in college, but I was very lonely. I felt very much like nobody understood me and I couldn’t connect with people.”

After years of battling depression and even thoughts of suicide, it wasn’t until she opened up to another veteran that she found healing.

“That saved my life,” Norton said.

Now, she’s hoping to give others the same guidance she was given with her latest mission.

“That’s what really drew me to wanting to work on this project,” Norton said.

And that project is the Bay Veterans Foundation Workshop and Learning Center in Bay City.

What’s now an empty shell is the long-time dream of Mike Jamrog and Keith Markstrom, whose master plan was drawn up 10 years ago at the former Stein Haus on a napkin.

“Started jotting down notes and our idea was a small room where people had a couple of saws and hammers and, over the years, it’s grown into a 5,700 square foot building and we’re possibly looking at more down the road,” Jamrog said.

The veterans’ workshop aims to not only build skills like woodworking or electrical, but also confidence, camaraderie, and connections within the community.

“We liken ourselves to talking about being a pre-school for skilled trades,” Markstrom said. “We don’t want to be a certifying body, but if we can introduce people to new techniques or things that they may not have an opportunity to be introduced to, maybe they could start here.”

But beneath the plywood and power tools is an even greater mission for Jamrog and Markstrom, driven by the stinging wounds from their fellow Americans after they returned home from Vietnam.

“A longtime friend of mine when I got home, he said, ‘I’ll give you some advice,’ this is 1971, ‘Go home, take your uniform off and shut up. Nobody wants to hear your story,’” Jamrog said. “I don’t want that ever to happen again.”

While things are no doubt different for today’s veterans, they say the needs are still the same.

“They still need a place to decompress, regain that camaraderie that they do in service and be able to share their stories in an environment where people understand what they’re saying or what they’re not saying,” Markstrom said.

Norton has signed on as a board member for the Bay Veterans Foundation Workshop and Learning Center. She hopes to open the door to veterans who need what she did years ago.

“A place like this where I knew where to go to just meet other veterans, that would have been life-saving for me,” she said.

Norton hopes this helps light the path forward for veterans battling their new mission on the home front.

“I think this place is going to make a huge difference,” she said.

They hope to have the workshop and learning center completed by the spring.

In the meantime, they’re hoping to connect with people who’d like to mentor veterans or organizations seeking veterans as mentors.

You can learn more about the Bay Veterans Foundation Workshop and Learning Center by going to its website.