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Troutdale man encourages combat vets to discuss experiences

by: Outlook photo Don Curtis

For Troutdale resident Don Curtis and his veteran peers, sharing tales of battle with those who have been there is nothing short of therapeutic.

Knowing there were other East Countians who'd like to talk with fellow veterans about their wartime experiences, Curtis took up the task of coordinating a weekly gathering for stories and sharing.

The loose-knit group, unofficially known as 'Been in Combat,' has met each Thursday since early February from 6 to 8 p.m. at Gresham City Hall, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway. Combat veterans of all ages from any branch are welcome to attend occasionally or each week.

'The whole idea was to give some combat veterans a venue to sit and do nothing for two hours but sit around, tell their war stories, their fears, their experiences and some of their challenges,' Curtis says. 'No matter what your war, we want to hear your story. Because when you start talking, it helps.'

A retired pilot and combat veteran of campaigns from Vietnam to Desert Storm, Curtis credits Jamie Snodgrass, pastor of the Sandy Nazarene Church, with the original concept for the group.

Curtis says he felt the group would attract more combat veterans if it were not associated with a particular church, so he sought out a more neutral location.

Gresham City Manager Erik Kvarsten helped Curtis secure meeting space at City Hall.

'Erik really stepped up,' Curtis says. 'He found us a place and is generously supporting our troops and this combat veterans organization.'

Because of the various meetings and events at the building, the group meets in whatever room is available on Thursday evening. The front-desk attendant, Curtis notes, will guide visitors to the appropriate room.

Averaging six or seven participants each week so far, Curtis is hopeful the group will grow as word gets out of its bonding and sharing powers.

'Combat veterans, we're tough guys who have some lingering issues that just come from combat,' he says, adding that spouses and children who've not seen battle don't easily relate to sometimes-intense battle stories. 'Ninety percent of us are afraid to talk about it.'

As therapeutic as the conversations can be, Curtis stresses the main objective is to provide a comfortable forum for veteran peers to share their range of experiences.

'They have fun,' Curtis says of the meetings so far. 'They enjoy each other for a couple of hours.'