By K.B. Sherman, Community Reporter
Westborough – “I wish a Vietnam veteran could walk beside me when I come through an airport in uniform and people thank me for my service,” U.S. Air Force Col. Brent French, of Westborough, said. “They never got the recognition for their sacrifices as we do today.
“By 2025 there will be fewer military veterans as a percent of the population than ever before in our history – less than 1 percent. I see that as a problem that needs to be addressed for the benefit of both the military and our society.”
Brent served eight years of active duty after his commissioning in 1991 and then became an Individual Ready reservist who now serves in the Reserve Affairs Branch of the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Washington. He is a security forces officer by specialty and before his current billet he served in Headquarters, Special Operations Command, at Hurlburt Field at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. He is a graduate of Army Airborne School, Army Ranger School, and many others in his 21-year career to date.
“I think about the number of military veterans and their relatives – especially in Massachusetts,” he said. “Our society is moving towards one of an overwhelmingly large population with no personal contact with the military and a very small subset of people who have served or are related to veterans,” French said. “We are in rough shape in that dimension and need to strengthen the bonds between the military and non-military.”
Upholding the Promise (www.cnas.org/upholdingthepromise) is an activity of the Center for New American Security with which French is closely involved. The program works through research, analysis, dialogue and outreach to explore the effects of military service upon current and former service members and their families, and the ways in which the nation can best support those who serve.
In an unofficial alliance with this program is a recently enacted Massachusetts law called “The Valor Act,” legislation aimed at increasing opportunities for veteran-owned businesses, Gold Star families, military children and higher education access. Among other provisions, the Valor Act provides greater access for Massachusetts” 385,000 vets to help with small businesses; affords greater opportunities for service-disabled veterans to participate in public projects; makes it easier for children of military personnel to transfer between school districts and states; and expands supports from the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund to Gold Star families. The relief fund, which derives its funding from a voluntary tax check-off on income tax returns, is used to defray the costs of food, housing, utilities, medical service and other expenses borne by Massachusetts National Guard and Reserve Service members and their families.
“I was particularly interested in helping the children of military dependents transfer from one state's school to another without their having to repeat grades, as has often been the case,” French said.
Brent has also been working with the town of Westborough to create a program in which veterans can do town work in return for a lower tax burden of up to $1,000/year on their homes or selves, as has been the case for some time regarding senior citizens. According to Brent, Westborough expects to enroll 10 veterans in the first year of the program's implementation and is the third town in the state to adopt such a program.
In his civilian life Brent brings his expertise as a Ph.D. in leadership and change (Antioch University, 2012) to his work at Lexmark in Waltham, in the business of hardware and software services. Originally from Connecticut, French is married to the former Kristin Greene, and they live in Westborough with their two daughters.
Also a concern is the closing of so many military bases around the country, with 80 percent of U.S. bases concentrated in just 20 states that are traditionally “red” in the political vernacular.
“And how do we keep the current public good feeling about our veterans?” Brent asked.