In the dim lighting of the VFW Post 8577 canteen, combat veterans can be found sharing stories and giving one another a hard time.
Veterans of foreign wars spanning decades of American history gather there for the camaraderie and to compare experiences from different wars and different times.
John Petrim served two, 12-month tours in Vietnam and retired as a major in 1987 after spending 28 years with the Army.
“Back then, there was no process,” said Petrim, who is originally from the East Coast. “You just waited for your ETS (estimated time of separation) date, and that was it.”
After leaving his last post at Fort Meade, Md., Petrim said the biggest challenge he faced was figuring out what he wanted to do.
Readjusting to a less-disciplined lifestyle was also odd.
“People openly spoke their minds and told you want they thought. As a civilian, everyone was equal,” Petrim said. “Out in the job marketplace, you’re in competition with kids.”
Petrim studied enough history and other liberal arts during his service to achieve an associate’s degree, but never finished a bachelor’s program. He spent a lot of time applying for various civil service jobs in Pennsylvania.
“I can’t even remember all the tests,” he said. “I just went in every day and took whatever test they had.”
Compared to the variety of services and programs offered for veterans leaving the Army now, Petrim’s experience leaves something to be desired.
“From what I read in the newspapers, it’s a year and a half process,” Petrim said. “I think it’s a great idea. Instead of throwing you into the world, they try to help you figure out what you want to do.”
Ted Petersen retired from the Army two years ago as a Sgt. 1st Class in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. He joined the Army following in his father, grandfather and uncle’s footsteps and served three tours in Iraq.
“The difference from their era and my era is 180 degrees,” Petersen said. “They (the Army) look out for you now. They help you go through the process and get you the right people to talk to.”
Petersen is studying business and criminal justice at Central Texas College. He said he tones down his skills on some job applications.
“They want salesmanship, I was a recruiter for three years,” Petersen said. “I spent 26 years in the Army and 22 of those were in leadership positions. Management is a part of that... My last platoon, I was in charge of 89 guys and $17.6 million in equipment.”
Petersen chose to stay in Copperas Cove instead of uprooting and moving to California, where he is originally from.
Being near Fort Hood offers access to a few services preferred by older and younger veterans alike.
“I go on post to use the commissary and the PX,” Petrim said. “I use the VA hospital doctors and so on.”
Petersen, as well, takes advantage of medical care tailored for veterans, including the veterans hospital and counseling services.