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Posted 2/12/2015

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By Brannen Parrish

ST. LOUIS -- Although she will be in Missouri, Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, will view pieces of Oklahoma's history while visiting the St. Louis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to celebrate the five year anniversary of the Veterans Curation Program (VCP).

Among the items on display for Darcy will be two metates, excavated in Oklahoma in 1974 and provided by the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma.

Metates are large stones that were used by Native Americans to grind seeds like calcified maize, and spices for food preparation. Women typically used rocks called manos to grind the items for cooking like a mortar and pestle.

These metates, along with 100 boxes of historic and documents, photographs and prehistoric lithics are some of the items that will be processed by veterans through the VCP at the St. Louis District's Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archeological Collections (MCX-CMAC).

In 2009, the St. Louis District MCX-CMAC initiated the VCP, which encourages contractors performing curation services to hire veterans. Three labs employ 30 veterans simultaneously.

The program lasts about five months and gives our nation's heroes valuable job skills, while fulfilling the Corps of Engineers' responsibility of properly processing historic and prehistoric collections.

Among the veterans currently employed through the program is Timothy Taylor, who served in Baghdad with the Army in October 2005. Taylor was injured when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb while his unit was crossing an overpass.

The resulting explosion took his left hand and cut his right hand in half. His head hit the radio mount resulting in traumatic brain injury and an injury to his jaw.

"I was drinking from a straw for about a year and a half but here I am," Taylor said.

Taylor graduated from St. Louis University with a degree in Business Administration, in May and quickly discovered that getting a job without experience, even for degree-holding veterans, is difficult.

"When I graduated and started applying for jobs I kept hearing, 'You just don't have the experience we want,'" Taylor said.

Taylor learned about the program through the Wounded Warrior Project and started the five-month program in December.

Through the VCP, veterans perform much of what archeologists would call their "grunt work", repackaging materials excavated in the 1960s and 1970s in non-acidic bags, digitizing documents and properly tagging items.

"There are two sides to archeology," said Chris Koenig, an archeologist with the St. Louis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "For every day you spend on a site in the field, you will spend two to four days in the lab analyzing the items and writing reports. If you have artifacts but don't have the coinciding documentation, the item is worthless. Through this program veterans are helping the Corps take responsibility for the public's artifacts."

They learn to use common office computer programs like Excel and Access, and gain office experience.

Repackaging the materials requires focus and attention to detail but gives veterans, especially those who served in combat arms roles an opportunity to demonstrate they can succeed in an office environment.
"While this is very different from what I do, it helps out in so many different ways because it reintegrates you and provides you with that office experience, and it shows that you are teachable, that you can learn new things and that you are adaptable," Taylor said. "There is no better way to help the veteran than to give him gainful employment or an opportunity to network and learn."