“We just hit the dirt and scrambled for our weapons,” said Marc Tjaden [pronounced jay-den], reflecting on the brief moments of terror that followed a sudden burst of gunfire.
Marc was serving in the US Army on his third deployment to Afghanistan. As a payroll agent, he enjoyed fairly comfortable circumstances and was generally removed from anything remotely dangerous.
That all changed one day when a disgruntled Afghan soldier burst into his tiny office and opened fire. Of the 10 or so people milling around the small 12-foot by 12-foot building, two were killed, including his friend and translator, who had thrown himself on top of Marc, saving his life. The Afghan soldier was killed immediately by Army security forces just outside the office.
The incident was over in a matter of seconds, but it left Marc badly shaken and grieving the loss of his friend. The psychological and emotional stress persisted, and he was officially diagnosed with a case of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD). Soon after he retired having served 40 years in the Army.
Back home in Auburn, Marc decided to volunteer at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, where he was introduced to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a program of Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities recruits volunteers 55 years and older to serve at non-profit organizations that need them most. The program helps seniors become mentors, coaches, and companions to people in need. They also contribute their job skills and expertise to community projects and organizations.
“Older Americans have a lifetime of experience to share and the desire to make a real difference in their community,” says Shirley Johnson, RSVP Project Coordinator. “They have managed households, run businesses, and been nurses, farmers, salespeople, artists and executives. Now they are ready to put their unique talents and expertise to work in their communities, and enrich their own lives in the process.”
Marc’s volunteerism eventually led him to the VA Hospital in Fort Wayne where he helped set up the Vets Sound Off Board, a suggestion box that allows veterans to air grievances and present ideas for improving services at the VA. Because of him, the VA recently instituted valet-parking service, which has eased the congestion at the entrance to the building. Also, the newly added Welcome Center has greatly improved the experience of the thousands of veterans who every year receive care at the VA.
“It feels good when I go back to the vet and tell him we took care of his problem,” says Marc, who spends 20 to 30 hours a week at the VA.
Most recently Marc received what he describes as his highest honor, being asked to lead a vet-to-vet support group at a nursing home in Marion. He says fellow vets discuss bottled-up anger, frustration and depression that often plagues their lives. If they want help with their debilitating conditions, Marc refers them to professional mental-health counselors for assistance.
“Being asked to facilitate a PTSD group at a local nursing home is a great honor,” says Marc. “Of course, one of the people who benefits the most is me.”
RSVP volunteers have the flexibility to choose how they want to give back to their community. They may volunteer only a few hours a week or as many as 40. There are opportunities available at numerous sites around northeast Indiana. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, email Shirley Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 260-925-0917.