Area veterans say service doesn’t stop after leaving military

They’ve traded their uniforms for civilian clothing, but area veterans say their dedication to service didn’t end when their tours did.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Osborn Murray III joined the Army in 1984, working as a tanker and with the office of intelligence until 1991. He returned in 2007 as a counterintelligence analyst, serving as a recruiter.

“I needed to get myself back centered and I knew the best way to do it was back in the military,” said Murray, who valued the discipline and direction of military life.

He medically retired in 2012 after an accident that resulted in serious injury. Once recovered, he felt called to serve the homeless in Atlanta by providing clothing, food and supplies.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

His organization, Calalus Charities, serves more than 400 individuals, including fellow veterans, each month.

“Veterans are the protectors of the country, not only soldiers but even when you come back home,” he said. “Once you put the uniform on, you are protecting this country and that is your continued duty.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Zack Knight served as a police officer in Smyrna before deciding to join the military in 2016. He served until 2019.

“I wanted to serve at a larger scale and lead men in combat,” Knight said.

As an infantry leader, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2019 during Operation Freedom Sentinel, with a unit attached to the Green Berets, the U.S. Army Special Forces. He had 35 soldiers assigned to him.

Knight said they ran combat operations every four day, getting engagements in every other one. Within the first eight weeks, Knight said, he lost soldiers.

He would medically retire due to nerve damage to his arm. As someone who served and had contacts in Afghanistan, he doesn’t feel the withdrawal of troops was handled properly.

“I lost contact with a lot of my contacts over there,” he said.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Now a business owner, Knight also serves as the marketing and communications chair for VETLANTA, a non-profit organization that connects veterans with each other and with various business and community resources.

His father served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, so Veterans Day allows him to honor his father and others.

“For me, it’s saying thanks in a way that I want to make sure veterans understand there is more support than just each other,” he said.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

BriGette McCoy, who served in the Army from 1987 to 1991, testified before a Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing in 2013 about sexual assaults and harassment she suffered during her time stationed in Germany. The perpetrators, she said, were fellow soldiers who were never held accountable.

“This happened in a foreign country, away from American soil,” she told committee members, referring to a 1988 incident that she said she did not report. “That would not be he last time I would be assaulted or harassed. This is my story but it’s not mine alone. More than 19,000 men and women every year share similar stories.”

Eventually, she testified, she did file a formal complaint but it sparked no official hearing and no written response.

“The only thing I wanted at that time were two basic things,” she said. “One was an apology and for the harassment to stop.”

She’d joined the military to travel and seek a career in technology becoming a data telecommunications specialist working with top secret clearance during the Gulf War. The abuse she suffered left her suicidal and depressed, and she was homeless for a time after leaving the military. She began connecting with other women veterans, and in 2008 launched the Women Veteran Social Justice Network.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

“(Social justice) wasn’t a term that people were promoting, especially in the veteran’s space,” McCoy said. “I felt it was important to bring the narrative of women who have served forward.”

McCoy remains dedicated to helping other women who have experienced sexual abuse during their service navigate the transition to civilian life.

“You never stop serving in some way, shape, form or fashion,” she said. “It doesn’t have to look the same, as what I’m doing, but each person does something that they contribute with.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Stephanie McRae always had a passion for the military and felt it was the right place for her. She served in the Army from 2000 to 2004.

“My time in the military was amazing,” she said.

But in 2002, she faced not only injuries to her leg and hand while stationed in South Korea, but also what she described as military sexual trauma while at Fort Lewis in Washington. She left the military with the hope to return in the future.

“I’m a disabled veteran now so my hope to serve just changed a little,” she said.

McRae, a Stone Mountain High School graduate, decided to pursue a nursing degree but during the first year of a nursing program began experiencing PTSD.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

She was homeless for a time but support from McCoy and others helped her get back on her feet. Today, she is a homeowner who tutors students and volunteers in her Clayton County community.

“The service doesn’t stop,” McRae said. “Once the soldier makes that commitment, takes an oath, the belief in yourself and in your nation is a thing that sticks with us forever. For me to be a veteran, it’s finding my gift, my talent and ability and giving it back to those that need it.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Sidney Talley has been a military man all his life, even dressing up for Halloween as a child. His father and grandfather served, and he felt called to follow in their footsteps. He served in the Army from 2009 to 2015.

“I knew what my path was even back then,” Talley said.

Talley deployed to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. He is now the southeast regional director for Business Executives for National Security. Being a veteran means having the opportunity to give back to the country that has giving him so much already, he said, by continuing to be involved with veterans through VETATLANTA and working with military and government leaders on business practices.

“It was an honor to serve. It was some of the worst, best years of my life, if that makes sense,” he said. “It’s something I always wanted to do, I always wanted to do it.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC