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Buddy-to-Buddy volunteers needed

IRON RIVER—The idea of unit cohesion and sacrifice are basic military values.
    The bonds created by such ideals can last a lifetime, and the desire to help fellow veterans and/or reservists often remains strong.
    That is impetus behind the Buddy-to-Buddy Volunteer Veteran program, which strives to link service members with the support, assistance and resources they may need through the deployment cycle. The program was founded in 2009 at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry and Depression Center.
    Locally, there is a need for volunteers that can be the conduit between vets in need and programs that can help.
    “We’d love to find another volunteer in Iron River,” said Phil Presnell, the Northern Michigan/Upper Peninsula regional coordinator of Buddy-to-Buddy. “We don’t have one right now, we have (one) pending trainee.”
    Basically, volunteers are assigned to the National Guard armories and offer resources and assistance to any soldier in those armories and also provide outreach in local communities and to any veteran of any era who asks for assistance.
    Volunteers help service members connect with resources in the following areas: education, employment, financial, legal, medical, mental health, substance abuse, relationship issues and other needs.
    The Buddy-to-Buddy program does not provide direct services to vets but acts as a go-between.
    “We cut down on the red tape and eliminate the stigma,” said Presnell, who is a Vietnam vet and a volunteer assigned to the Cheboygan 46 MP unit. “The veterans deal with us directly, eye-to-eye, not just someone on the telephone that’s nameless and faceless.”
    The service is free and confidential. Presnell said the program can refer vets to 450-500 resources that can provide assistance to vets in need.
    The program has assisted more than 1,700 Michigan veterans and service members over the past five years, according to the group’s website, www.buddytobuddy.org.
    He added that the program presently has 125 volunteers around the state, all of whom have been honorable discharged.
    “We’ve all been there, done that,” Presnell said. “(Veterans) feel more comfortable with us knowing we have a similar background.”
    Volunteers go through a one-day, eight-hour training session after their application is reviewed and approved by the regional coordinator and an interview is conducted.
    Presnell said the next training session will likely be held in Marquette. The program pays for mileage, overnight lodging and meals.
    Once training is complete, volunteers are assigned to an armory, where they attend a drill day and establish relationships with the soldiers there.
    “Generally, the time responsibility is about two hours per week,” Presnell said. “Every week we have two conference calls, and volunteers must do two per month. The conference calls are discussions and how-tos, and we have guest presenters.”
    Presnell said he’s available to travel for presentations at any veteran-related event or civic organization’s meeting in the county given notice.
    The program stands as another instance of veterans supporting veterans.
    “Most of our relationships have been born in battle,” Presnell said. “Now it’s time to take care of each other.”