Unique program celebrates five years changing veterans’ lives, preserving history

St. Louis District Public Affairs
Published Feb. 12, 2015

On the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, Maj. Gen. Michael Wehr, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division, recalled part of the sixteenth President’s second inaugural address as part of celebrating another important anniversary.

“Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

Wehr quoted President Lincoln as part of a ceremony honoring five years of the Veterans Curation Program in St. Louis February 12. The unique program has been preserving the nation’s history and changing veterans lives.

The St. Louis VCP laboratory is one of three VCP labs funded and operated by the St. Louis District Corps of Engineers. Created in 2009, the VCP provides employment and vocational training for recently separated veterans using archaeological collections administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The St. Louis District is home of the Corps’ Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections.  The center’s mission includes the curation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ vast archaeological collections, most of which were excavated during the construction of more than 400 Corps water resources projects including reservoirs and levees across the nation.

In his remarks, Wehr also highlighted that, in addition to helping veterans transition to civilian life and build skills for the modern job market, the VCP’s work fulfilled a higher purpose.

“We have a sacred trust to connect with our heritage and make the future better,” Wehr said. “Together, we are upholding that sacred trust to honor our culture and the sacrifices of the past with the talents around us today, and shaping the future.”

Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works hosted the event in the Robert A. Young Federal Building home of the St. Louis VCP Lab and St. Louis District headquarters. Darcy highlighted that, while veteran unemployment has improved over recent years to seven percent, it remains higher than the national average of around five percent.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of servicemembers, our veterans, as well as their families. No group of people has done more to forge our national identity through history than the veterans who’ve served as well as sacrificed for this nation,” Darcy said. “Now veterans can learn and master technical skills that are transferrable to future jobs outside the labs.”

Dr. Charles Coleman, Warrior and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, provided remarks on the importance of the program’s preservation and curation efforts to Native American tribes. Coleman is a tribal elder who served 22 years in the U.S. Army, and sees the VCP’s work as a critical stride in keeping Americans aware of their cultural and national heritage.

“Teachers will only teach what they know, and if they don’t know the history of Native Americans, they’re not going to be able to teach it,” Coleman said. “We need to get the information out of the shed and into the head.”

The event included tours of the VCP lab where visitors met with current and former veteran participants in the program to learn about some of the methods and skills applied to rehabilitating archaeological collections.  Currently, five Army and Marine Corps veterans are employed as archaeological technicians at the St. Louis VCP laboratory. 

For current and former participants in the program, the event was an opportunity to meet with their fellow veterans, share their experiences and talk about the VCP’s impact on them professionally and personally.

John Davis, a 2014 VCP graduate and cartographic technician with the St. Louis District, talked about the importance of the VCP as increasing numbers of veterans return home from their service. Davis served as an infantryman in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004 and deployed twice to Iraq.

“The VCP provides valuable work skills and tools to veterans to help them prepare for their personal goals during a transitioning time in their lives,” said Davis.  “Veteran transitions will only get more difficult with the mass influx of veterans coming off active duty, and programs like the Veterans Curation Program are essential for the future success of America’s veterans. I am proud to be part of this program and truly appreciate all those who make this program possible.”