Tribe opens veterans village, remembers those who served

RAYNHAM — U.S. Army Veteran Bridget McNutt felt at peace Thursday for the first time since returning home after a 17-year stint in the military.

That peace came when she walked into her new home located at the Warriors Way Veterans Village, a housing community established by the Lumbee Tribe for its veteran members in need.

McNutt, one of those veterans, said that when she retired and came home in 2011 after an injury, she had changed.

“I’m different. I feel like I’m in a foreign country being at home… the way everything is set up (at Warriors Way), I feel peace,” McNutt said. “I feel like I’m going to be OK. I’m on the rebound.”

Lumbee Tribe administration held a ceremony on Thursday to celebrate the completion of the village. During the ceremony, McNutt along with four other Lumbee veterans Leary Oxendine, Cary Hunt, James Pierce and Preston Sencebaugh, were presented keys to their new homes.

McNutt moved in that day.

The path to Warriors Way

Construction on Warrior’s Way begin back in December 2020. The village consists of 10 mobile homes enclosed in the small town of Raynham. The homes were a surplus of houses from FEMA, following Hurricane Florence, according to Bradley Locklear, the Tribe’s Housing director.

The tribe was gifted 15 homes with the stipulation that at least 10 be used for veterans, he said.

The tribe made additions to the homes, adding elevated HVAC systems and a brick foundation, and bringing the homes to modular standards.

The five veterans were selected for the homes through the HUD-VASH Program, which is a collaborative program that pairs HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance with Veteran Affairs case management and supportive services for homeless Veterans. The Lumbee Tribe is the top administrator of the HUD-VASH program after piloting the program in 2016, Locklear said.

To meet eligibility, veterans must be a member of the Lumbee Tribe facing homelessness or be at imminent risk of being homeless. They also must have a chronic physical health or mental health condition or substance abuse issues.

Each year the Lumbee Tribe receives 20 vouchers to assist veterans in need. Last year the program was extended and the tribe was given an additional 20 vouchers for the program for the first time ever. This prompted the tribal government to self-fund an additional 10 vouchers.

“It’s been a blessing to be able to do this… It’s not hard to administer 20 vouchers when Native Americans, especially Lumbee Native Americans, have served in the numbers that our people have served,” Locklear said. “Amongst any demographics, Native Americans have the highest rate of servitude in the United States military.”

Honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice

Those American Indian men and women that served and paid the ultimate sacrifice were honored at the event Thursday which doubled as a Memorial Day Ceremony.

The ceremony began with a drop-in by the All Veterans Group Parachute Team. The group presented Lumbee Tribe Chairman John Lowery with a wooden American flag with the group’s seal and the phrase “Home of the free because of the brave.”

During the ceremony, the Lumbee Warrior held a special flag ceremony while veteran Debbie Barefoot sang the national anthem.

Lowery took the time to thank the veterans who served, Lumbee Tribe staff, and all of the entities who came together to make Warrior’s Way happen. He also took time to remember and honor those who served and have gone on.

“This weekend we honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice… It’s a time for reflection and a time to remember those individuals who died while protecting our country, our freedom and our family,” Lowery said. “May we never forget our brother, sisters, husbands, wives, sons and daughters who never made it home.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson spoke and committed himself to doing whatever he could as an elected official to support veterans.

“Native Americans have a long proud tradition of serving in our military and let me be the first to say it does not go unnoticed by this nation,” Robinson said.

He noted that when troops were sent to Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea the amount of money spent was never questioned.

“We never ask about the money when the fight is going on,” Robinson said. “The only time we bring out the bean counters is when the men and women come home wounded.”

“The United States government, our state government, should be as willing to take care of these veterans when they come home as they were willing to send them off to battle when the war began.”

U.S. Army veteran Larry Townsend read the poem ” In Fladers Fields” by Lt. Col. John MaCrae and spoke of the true meaning of Memorial Day.

“When we were called, we went,” Townsend said. “We did our duty for god and for our country, for our freedom and for each other, hoping that one day we would all safely return home from war and things will be as they were whenever we left… Those of us who were fortunate enough to return home, things were not the same and we will never be the same.”

This Memorial Day, we should remember warriors and the more than one million veterans who have gone on and paid the ultimate price, Townsend said.

“How do we repay the men and women who died while defending our great nation? You pay them for the ultimate sacrifice by remembering them and their service defending our way of life against hostile forces, both foreign and domestic.”

Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected]