Current Youth Tour Winner
Matthew Hinkel wins Youth Tour Essay Contest
Congratulations to Matthew Hinkel, a junior at Our Redeemer’s Christian School in Minot, for winning this year’s Youth Tour contest with his essay. He will be taking an all-expenses-paid educational trip to Washington, D.C. in June with students from across the United States. The trip includes personal visits with the North Dakota Congressional Delegation. He will have many learning opportunities while she tours places like the WWII and Vietnam War memorials, Holocaust Museum, Smithsonian, Library of Congress and more.
Matthew Hinkel’s Youth Tour Essay
There are approximately 20 million military veterans in the United States today. How shall fellow U.S. citizens honor and look after these veterans, who have served and sacrificed on our behalf? Describe any special connection you may have to a veteran or active-duty member of the military.
On any given night in the United States an estimated 39,500 veterans are homeless (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans). That is an astounding number of souls. Just imagine, this is the equivalent of 80% of the population of the city of Minot going without a place to stay and without adequate sources of food and water. After sacrificing so much for us, thousands of our veterans do not have a place to stay night after night in the very country they defended with honor. Many soldiers return home with physical wounds, scars, or emotional symptoms that result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some veterans who return to civilian life find the return is full of setbacks with difficult career retraining, relationship rebuilding and restoring mental health. We have a clear duty to take care of our fellow citizens. How? We can commit to assisting our veterans through volunteering, donating, and finding additional ways to make a difference.
Just this past summer I saw the value of being open to everyday “split-second opportunities” to help people in genuine need. I worked for a summer camp and as I was about to return to the camp after spending a day in Bismarck, I noticed two men standing near an exit sign on Interstate 94. It would have been easy to ignore these men but I sensed an opportunity and a responsibility awaiting me. After I pulled over, they introduced themselves as “Josh” and “Johnny” and described their need for a ride to Fargo – a 200-mile drive from where we were. They invited me to look through their bags and coats to be certain they had no weapons or drugs. Sensing their honesty, I decided not to search and agreed to take them. They were ecstatic and very thankful. The next few hours spanned many topics, but of most interest to me was learning about their experiences of being homeless. Johnny said homeless people are vastly misunderstood. People think of the homeless as dirty, greedy, lazy folks who care only about themselves. He shared his own experiences, specifically staying in the homeless shelters. When we eventually reached our destination, the truck stop in Fargo, it was well after midnight and I had a long drive to return to the camp. Yet, that long drive time would be a formative moment in my young life. I had just left two souls at a Fargo truck stop to continue their uncertain journey in life. I don’t know whether Josh or Johnny were veterans but my experience with them opened my eyes immensely to the very real need for support and adequate housing for all homeless people – including veterans. That night became one of the defining points of my young life.
On this point, I trust all Americans can agree: as a country, we can do better by our veterans. We can learn to view the twenty plus million veterans as more than a number. We can realize that each and every one of those “numbers” has a face, family, and each deserves a good support system. Locally, though we have a VFW Post and a VA Clinic at Minot Air Force Base, there are numerous places where services for veterans are grossly insufficient.
In addition to responding to the practical needs of veterans as we have time and opportunity, there are additional ways to show our support. Organizations such as the Fisher House Foundation, Operation Homefront, and Homes for Our Troops (and their families) are worth supporting.
At age 18, my grandfather was drafted into the U.S. Army for service during the Korean Conflict. The conflict would de-escalate before he saw action, yet he was fully prepared to serve the defense needs of this nation. He completed his military service and was honorably discharged. It is for the men and women like him who have answered the call to serve this great nation, who have accepted the call to place service before self, that we owe so much gratitude. For those who have sworn their lives to protecting the freedoms of people here at home and around the world, let us say, “You are not forgotten.” “We will take care of you.” “We are here for you.” May God bless our veterans and may God bless the USA.