RISING SUN — These days Jeff Kessler thinks of himself as a father and husband, not a veteran.
He works at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a quality assurance technician and he and his wife Morgan are raising a rambunctious family of four children, which means lots of traveling to practices and games for various sports and activities.
In his own free time he likes to lift weights and hunt deer with his compound bow.
It’s been 10 years since Kessler, then a 23-year-old corporal in the United States Marines, was wounded on his third tour in Afghanistan. Kessler and a buddy were patrolling an area inside Helmand Province. Kessler kicked in a door that had been armed with explosives.
The force of the blast damaged his legs so badly that both had to be amputated. He also suffered damage to his right hand and left arm. Practically newlyweds at that time, Morgan told the Cecil Whig in 2011 that she was keeping it in perspective.
“We’re thankful he’s still alive. We are so blessed,” she said. “His injuries are just another bump in the road we have to get through.”
In the ensuing years the Kesslers have been helped by various organizations including Homes For Our Troops, which built a 2,700-square foot ranch home for them with more than 150 special features designed to help Jeff such as wider doorways, wood or tile floors and handicap accessibility throughout. They moved into that Rising Sun area home in 2014.
He’s also taken advantage of events such as Dream Team Prosthetics Camp in Oklahoma.
“He learned things there that he never knew,” Morgan said. “He learned about things like adjusting his legs.”
Jeff quickly learned what all the numbers and settings mean.
“If I make the foot too tight the computer in the leg won’t respond properly,” he explained.
He even learned he can drive without hand controls.
“I’m working on that now,” he said.
Unless you knew his story you probably might not realize Kessler is walking on high-tech legs. He enters the room with a smooth gait and a confident smile. Those legs make it possible.
“The computer (in the leg) knows when I am sitting or standing,” Kessler said. “They respond if I’m stepping off a curb or if I’m going down a hill it responds.”
That weight lifting is an important part of his well-being, he said.
“My main goal is to stay in shape. The better I can walk and take care of the kids and the things I need to do the better it is,” he said.
He doesn’t see too much of the fellow Marines he served with in Afghanistan and he stays away from any conversation about the US withdrawal from that country.
For now he said life is “pretty good” and he likes it that way.
ELKTON — All three of the candidates selected by the Cecil County Republican Central Committee to fill the District 4 seat on the Cecil County Council are eager to serve if chosen by the council. And all three — Donna Culberson, Ed Larsen and Richard “Rick” Wilson say if nominated, they would run for election to retain the seat.
However only one of them — Larsen — has any previous political experience.
“I ran three years ago,” Larsen said Friday of the race that eventually seated George Patchell.
While hoping it could be his name chosen, Larsen said he wants who the council feels is the right person. “I want someone in there who will have the best interests of the people. Whoever it is I’d like to think it’s me.”
Patchell is now Perryville Town Administrator. The council has until Nov. 16 to name his successor.
Neither of the three are Cecil County natives, but all are committed to making it strong with a solid future.
“I do my own research and dig into an issue,” Culberson said. “Before I say I want another warehouse is there something better we can do?”
Looking at previous council actions, Culberson believes better decisions could have been made.
“I have heard from a number of people concerned that schools are getting turf fields over fixing schools with issues. Money was spent on a new library. Why was that necessary instead of using it on something else?” she said. “Those are the types of things in which I hope to get involved.”
Wilson’s goal, if chosen, would be to find a way to get residents engaged.
“I want to bring the community into the process. I want the citizens to be able to speak for the county’s own benefit,” Wilson said.
Calling himself a communicator, Wilson said he felt the former District 4 representative was “very quiet.”
“That does not serve the community well. They need a voice,” Wilson said. “I deal with people very well. I worked in federal government so I have a grasp on the necessity to work together.”
As a small business owner with 35 employees, Larsen also feels he understands the average Cecil County resident.
“People are tired of big government and government overreach,” he said. “I am not opposed to paying taxes but we have to be good stewards.”
“We need smart government, smart spending and smart growth,” Larsen said. “Those are very real concerns.”
Larsen moved to Cecil County in 1983 from Wisconsin.
“When I got here the area between Elkton and Bear was farmland. We’re squeezing the farmers out,” he said.
Also a transplant, Wilson moved here almost 30 years ago. Between his employment and his involvement in his church Wilson felt this was a calling.
“I’ve really got an insider’s view of the problems and what (people) struggle with,” Wilson said, adding the county needs business leadership. “I was just being made aware of the need for strong leadership in my community.”
Having lived in the county 20 years, Culberson said she’s very in tune to politics at every level but is most focused on what’s happening right here at home.
“I have more than 30 years in healthcare,” she said, noting that would be beneficial right now with the debate over mask mandates, forced vaccination and other COVID issues.
James Massey, council manager, said the candidates would be discussed in a closed session of the county council after the work session Tuesday night.
NORTH EAST — Last year, many people pulled over their cars to talk to North East VFW Post 6027 Surgeon Scott Wells, sharing stories about relatives or friends who have been impacted by a veteran suicide, during his around 11 mile walk to raise awareness of the issue.
“The VA did a study in 2013, and they said 22 veterans commit suicide every day,” Wells said. “It’s the trauma of war and the stress of trying to integrate back into civilian society.”
This Veterans Day, Wells, will repeat that trek from the VFW to the Elk Neck Fire Station and back, to raise awareness of the struggles veterans face from PTSD, physical injuries, and the struggle to return to civilian life.
“The trauma of war is like this really dark place in your mind that works really hard every day to take over your whole well being,” Wells said. “It’s a real struggle for some of these folks to not let that happen.”
Wells is a Maryland state ambassador for Mission 22, a national organization working to help veterans and their families. Programs for veterans and their spouses include Recovery + Resiliency, a free self guided 28 day program based around wellness practices. The program also offers tools for family members of veterans.
“Countywide and statewide, I don’t know how many folks know these options are out there for them,” Wells said.
Wells served in the Navy for six and a half years during the Cold War era. Many war veterans struggle with integrating into society, because their experience can it hard to relate to friends back home.
“When you go into the military, everyone goes through boot camp,” Wells said. “The military is really good at breaking your whole emotional being and physical being down to what we would call parade rest and building you back up into a military person. We don’t really have that coming back into civilian life.”
Veterans in crisis can call 1-800-273-8255 for the veterans crisis hotline. Readers interested in donating to Mission 22 can go to https://mission22.com/donate. Wells also encouraged community members to join him on his walk, interested readers can meet Wells at 7:45 a.m. North East VFW Post 6027 on Thursday Nov. 11.