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After war, some peace in the fields for combat veterans

By HUNTER McGEE
Union Leader Correspondent

September 14. 2016 10:59PM




CHESTER — Serving their country in different wars, two Army combat veterans have forged a bond through farming they had only found before on the battlefield.

Through a mentor farming program new to the Granite State, veterans Jeffrey Geary, 46, and Julion Parker, 24, have developed a working friendship centered around Geary’s grade A goat dairy operation — Mill Creek Dairy, at 217 Chester St.

“It feels like there’s three of us, there’s Julion, there’s me, and there’s the bond,” said Geary, who served in the Army from 1988 to 1993 as an engineer in the Gulf War and Somalia, “And the bond is the motivator that continues to push us forward.”

As Geary spoke on Tuesday from just inside a towering red barn, Parker stood nearby. Also an Army veteran, Parker served two tours in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010 and 2011 to 2012 in the infantry before returning to civilian life. With several white goats moving around them, the men took time from their many chores to explain how the program works.

Started by veteran Michael O’Gorman in California in 2008, the Farmer Veteran Coalition helps veterans find meaningful work and reintegrate into society through farming, they said. The coalition recently established a chapter in New Hampshire.

About four months ago, Geary said he was asked by Dot Perkins, a University of New Hampshire extension agent, to participate in a farming mentor program. He was then contacted by Parker through a text message and the two veterans started working together about two months ago.

Geary, who has run the farm for several years and previously hired helpers to work with him, said he immediately knew that Parker was different in his approach to the job. The two men were able to talk about the work and share some of their military experiences.

With Parker now helping him, Geary said there’s camaraderie and he is able to remember past military experiences.

“It’s just like a brother in the civilian world,” Geary said.

He later added, “That’s my connection to the program, and it’s really provided an emotional outlet for me. . .You don’t get that connection with civilians, it’s not as deep.”

Parker, who is from Lowell, Mass., has also helped with the physical aspects of the job, Geary said.

Along with his duties on the farm, Parker is growing hops on the property he hopes to harvest.

During his military service, Parker said he suffered a traumatic brain injury from being in the area of IED blasts. When he returned home he worked a series of different jobs and attended college for engineering.

“For me going from the military there was a very large gap before I ended up here,” Parker said.

He said he had difficulty reintegrating into society and finding meaningful employment.

“Over time I tried this and I tried that, I’ve done so many jobs out there it’s ridiculous,” he said.

Then just recently, he read an article in the Military Times about former military personnel who are involved in farming.

“There’s some appeal to it,” he said. “I feel a lot more comfortable being outside in the dirt than I do in an office,” said Parker, who didn’t have any prior farming experience before beginning his new job.

Parker said he plans to continue working at Mill Creek to gain experience and eventually buy his own land to grow crops.

And then there’s the bond he shares with Geary, Parker said.

“Just knowing that someone has had similar experiences, there’s a sense of trust, of loyalty that makes it a very comfortable environment.”


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