In light of veteran controversies, Palow speaks on his experience

Robert Porter

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider

Robert Porter speaks to the crowd at a Berne Town Hall meeting on Aug. 28.

BERNE — Robert Porter of Albany, who served in the Marines for 21 years, was one of a crowd of veteran supporters who came to the Berne Town Hall in August, believing that Councilman Dennis Palow had been maligned.

On Sept. 26, 2019, Porter emailed all members of the Berne Town Board — except Palow, also a veteran — and invited them to a program held at the Albany Stratton Veterans Administration Hospital. That email was published as a letter to the Enterprise editor, as were the responses from the board members.

The program, Veteran Cultural Competence Training, was designed by Joseph Geraci, a lieutenant colonel with a doctorate in clinical psychology. He aims to teach professionals — managers, human-resource officers, counselors, etc. — how to interact with veterans. The session was held on Oct. 16, from 11:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

“When I addressed the board [on Aug. 28],” Porter wrote in the email, “I said we all needed to understand each other better, and this looks like the perfect opportunity for everyone to come together and learn what our veterans undergo everyday.”

Porter concluded the letter with an ultimatum.

“I look forward to seeing each and every one of you there,” Porter wrote. “Should you decide not to attend, I’ll take that as your refusal to be an informed and caring public official on the Berne Town Board.” 

The three Democratic board members — Dawn Jordan, Karen Schimmer, and Joel Willsey — responded to the invitation explaining their interest in the event, but each said they could not find time to spare on a weekday to attend the nearly eight-hour-long program. Each reply was published as a letter to the Enterprise editor in the Oct. 2 edition. 

“In my drawer upstairs is a Purple Heart,” Schimmer wrote in her reply, “earned by a family member killed in combat during World War II … I am sure the seminar will be excellent, and it’s good to know Stratton is working to further understanding of veterans. I’m sorry, though. I will not be able to attend.”

Neither Dennis Palow nor Sean Lyons — both Republicans — responded to the invitation. 

 Porter, Lyons, Palow, Jordan, Schimmer, and Willsey were not in attendance. After the event, The Enterprise spoke with Palow over the phone about his experience as a veteran.

Palow joined the Army in 1994, when he was living in Florida, after his father laid out the benefits the government provides soldiers. He enlisted at the bottom rank, E-1 (“Private nobody,” he joked) and went through basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Within two years, he was promoted to E-5, or sergeant. He eventually made his way to E-8, or 1st sergeant before retiring out of West Point in 2014. 

“I was on the fast track,” he said of his promotions, crediting his willingness to “take the hard assignments”and “be with soldiers and train them every day.” 

Palow was a squad leader during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, traveling to different towns in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and clearing out over 100 buildings a day, he said.

Later, he was stationed in Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, and was in charge of a full company, he said. In 2011, the company was tasked with running security for a Navy SEAL mission, which was later revealed to be the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, Palow said.

Now, he’s employed with Raytheon, a private defense contractor, and he helps train soldiers for two weeks at a time, four times a year.

 When asked if he agreed with Porter’s assumption that anyone who did not attend is refusing to be informed and caring, Palow said no. 

“People can’t make every meeting and every opportunity,” Palow said. “There’s no way anybody can do that.

“I 110 percent support veterans because I am one,” he continued. “But that doesn’t mean I can attend every one.”

When informed of the content of the Veterans Administration program, which dealt heavily with the way veterans feel misunderstood, Palow said he basically agreed.

“I think the media doesn’t give everybody the right info,” he said. “They only show the negative stuff, never the positive.”

Palow explained that a large part of the country’s mission in the middle east involved building infrastructure, schools, and providing the communities with resources that will help them thrive when the campaign is over.

“It’s not just about fighting,” he said. “It’s about helping these countries out … helping them not go to bed scared.”

When asked which movies are most accurate, Palow listed “American Sniper” and “Hacksaw Ridge” as recent examples.

“Obviously they throw a lot more in,” he said, “but most of it’s accurate.”

Palow says that, except for Councilman Joel Willsey, whom he’s filed a discimination complaint against (see related story), he’s never felt disrespected by civilians. But he thinks that, as the program taught, communication is key.

“If you sit down and talk to [non-veterans], I think they’d have more of a perspective,” he said.

But Palow also said that Berne has”not once done anything … for veterans,” except through the county’s ACCESS Hilltowns program (Albany County Center for Essential Supportive Services), which provides veterans with assistance on paperwork and benefits.

In 2017, Palow approached the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board about implementing a Reserve Officer Training Corps, offering himself up as a paid instructor. The proposal was rejected soon after, with many district residents and administrators concerned about the $66,000 annual cost. 

Still, Palow feels mostly content about his status as a veteran.

“Look at how many people came out and supported me,” he said, referencing an Aug. 28 town hall meeting which saw veterans come from as far as Massachusetts to stand in solidarity with him.



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