Veterans serve as both soldiers and civilians

For some people, service is just a way of life, and nowhere is this more obvious than what you witness among the members of Task Force Patriot. When Jim Freeman and his wife Peggy started TFP, it was intended just to be a way to help military people connect.

"Vets are bonded together in a special way I can't describe," Freeman said. "If they have a wholesome environment where they can talk with each other it can help eliminate any long-term emotional problems they might have."

In 10 years the original TFP group has grown from 35 to 630 veterans from the greater Atlanta area who meet for dinner the first Thursday of every month at First Baptist Church in Lilburn.

"It's a gathering of all people who made a commitment to serve their country," Freeman said. "At our dinners veterans of one war might talk about their common experiences or high school ROTC students might get to sit across the table from a guy who was at Normandy in World War II."

Though they enjoy their monthly gatherings, TFP is more than a social club. The members' commitment to their country goes way beyond their tour of duty in the military.

Among their various outreach programs, TFP helps displaced and homeless veterans and provides financial assistance to military families. Members speak to high school groups and volunteer as scoliosis screeners in Gwinnett middle schools. Every year TFP awards two $1,000 college scholarships with money from their own pockets.

"It's the nature of American GI's to share what they have," Freeman said.

One of the biggest missions of TFP is feeding the hungry. Recently they have partnered with Angel Food Ministries and this year will be donating 100 baskets of food to needy families for Thanksgiving. Ministries receiving these baskets include the Gwinnett Pregnancy Resource Center, Goodwill and the Lilburn Coop. On Nov. 22, 450 volunteers, some getting up at 3 a.m. to work at the AFM center in Monroe, will join forces to bring the food back to Gwinnett County.

In this particular detail, Boy Scouts earning community service credits will work alongside WW II veterans who do whatever they can, some while sitting in a wheelchair.

One of Freeman's favorite TFP activities is their Annual Greatest Generation Formal Dinner. TFP honors WWII veterans by having them escorted to the dining hall for a free dinner by ROTC students from Parkview and Stone Mountain high schools. Each veteran may bring one guest. This year's dinner on Dec. 4 will mark the seventh anniversary of this special event.

If you know a WWI veteran you would like to have honored, please contact Freeman at jimfreeone@comcast.net or visit www.taskforcepatriot.com. By volunteering that person's name, you'll be doing a service.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@