Airmen uses life's challenges to assist others in need

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Armando Vasquez
  • 108th POA
The lowest point in his life was on a spring and chilly day in April when he found himself crying, alone and homeless in the streets of Massachusetts, said Willmont Griffin.
"I woke up one morning and started crying, and to this day I do not why," said Griffin in his raspy voice.
Alcohol addiction had taken over his life and he was a defeated man. Something he was shamed of after having been a proud Marine during the Vietnam War. Proud of having served during Operation Eagle Pull at Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Operation Frequent Wind at Saigon, South Vietnam; and the rescue of the merchant ship SS Mayaguez in May 1975 of the coast of Cambodia.
Griffin, a technical sergeant with the 108th Air Refueling Wing at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., called the New England Center for Homeless Veterans on that fateful day in 1991 and has never looked back on his addiction.
NECHV, a non-profit organization, extends a helping hand to any homeless veteran facing the challenges of addiction, trauma, severe and persistent mental illness, and unemployment. Located in Boston, the organization has aided veterans from all 50 states, though most clients are from the Boston area.
"They believed in me when I gave up on myself," said Griffin, "giving me the strength to go on with life."
Not only did the program put his life in the right direction and allowed him to start a successful career in the construction business, it allowed him to meet his wife of 16 years, Christina.
After successful completion of the NECHV program, Griffin was able to reenlist into the National Guard in 1998. He was assigned to the 379th Engineer Company Combat Support Equipment at Buzzards Bay, Mass. From the date of his initial enlistment through 2000 he served as a combat engineer there.
Thereafter, he enlisted in the Air National Guard in 2000 and was assigned to the 102nd Fighter Wing out of Otis Air National Guard Base at Cape Cod, Mass. as a civil engineer, before joining the 108th ARW Civil Engineering Squadron here.
The NECHV program has gotten him over various stumbling blocks, said the 54-year old Griffin.
Because of this, Griffin, originally from Hoosick Falls, N.Y. and currently residing at Jersey City, N.J., has received an associate degree in business administration from the American InterContinental University and graduated with honors in 2005.
He continued his studies at Colorado Technical University through the school's on-line program and graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with a bachelor degree in project management.
Today Griffin, who is employed by an engineering company from Springfield, N.J., volunteers his time to help fellow veterans struggling with addictions or personal problems, and is a member of several veterans groups.
"In the halls of AA, a lot of the people that come out from there are veterans," said Griffin. "That is a shame, and we should do more for them."
Since he has walked the walk, talked the talk and conquered his demons, he feels he has a lot to give to his fellow veterans, said Griffin.
Consequently, Griffin recently purchased a classic motorcycle so he can ride with the Patriot Guard Riders and the New Jersey Mission of Honor for Cremains of American Veterans members. Both organizations facilitate the interment of remains of fallen service members by escorting the bodies to their final resting place.
For his successful 18-year sobriety, life achievements and selfless volunteering to veterans' programs, Griffin will be honored with the Battlefield Citation Award from the NECHV. The award will be presented to Griffin during the annual, Leave No One Behind dinner and fundraising gala at Boston, Mass., November 12.
The award is given to a graduate of the NECHV program in recognition for the success he or she has attained in transitioning from the facility and program back into working society, said Laurence D. Fitzmaurice, the president and CEO of NECHV.
He felt honored and humbled when he received notification of the upcoming award, said Griffin.
"Had it not been for that shelter and helping me with my problems, I wouldn't be here," said Griffin.
"The road to life is not easy and sometimes there isn't a road, so you have to create your own path," said Griffin. "Thanks to the shelter, I now continue to live my life the way God had intended for me to live."