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Stories of service: Scott McAllister of Belchertown

  • Scott McAllister talks about his time in the Army and is now working towards a master’s degree in social work to become a veterans advocate. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scott McAllister talks about his time in Army and is now working towards a master’s degree in social work to become a veterans advocate. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scott McAllister talks about his time in Army and is now working towards a master’s degree in social work to become a veterans advocate. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scott McAllister talks about his time in Army and is now working towards a master’s degree in social work to become a veterans advocate. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scott McAllister talks about his time in Army and is now working towards a master’s degree in social work to become a veterans advocate. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Scott McAllister talks about his time in Army and is now working towards a master’s degree in social work to become a veterans advocate. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS


Friday, November 10, 2017

Growing up, Scott McAllister never planned on enlisting in the U.S. Army. He came from a family with many members who had served, but he wanted to go to college after graduating from Concord High School in New Hampshire. 

But, in the early 2000s, McAllister realized how much higher education would cost him, watched coverage of insurgency in the Middle East and the deaths of his enlisted countrymen on the news, and felt a sense of patriotism. 

McAllister, 34, of Belchertown, may not have initially planned on joining the armed services, but his decision to do so in March of 2003 changed his outlook and his life’s mission. McAllister served from 2003 to 2010, and was deployed twice to Iraq, where he re-enlisted. He is currently attending Springfield College to receive his master’s degree in social work, has an internship at the nonprofit ServiceNet and works as a part-time veterans’ service officer with the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services office in Northampton.

He also spends time talking to doctors and nurses, training them on how to better work with veterans, whose combat-related issues require unique treatment.

“I want to serve veterans. Being a veteran is something I’m proud of, but there’s also that provider instinct in me,” McAllister said, telling his story from the Starbucks across the street where he works at the Veterans’ Services office.

“I’m dedicated to making a career out of it,” McAllister said.

McAllister’s prolonged work with Veterans’ Services has given him insight into the issues veterans face at home, and his relatively recent service gives him insight into the issues veterans faced while deployed.

He remembers vividly the “unnatural situation” of deployment: being in close quarters with the same people, being intimately involved with the war effort “whether you’d like to or not,” being isolated from friends and family at home, being dependent on his fellow soldiers.

“I embraced the suck,” McAllister said. “It’s like Groundhog Day. You wake up, have a job to do and the same mission. You don’t get used to it, but you tolerate it.”

Less than a week into his 18-month deployment in Iraq, while he was still being processed, McAllister was helping to fortify a mosque when a rocket hit the ground and exploded feet from where he was working. He was uninjured, but the event had an impact on him. He picked up a piece of shrapnel from the explosion as a sort of souvenir — unfortunately, that souvenir did not make it past airport security when his deployment ended.

McAllister said he would come to expect gunfire and explosions daily. It became part of the routine. The experience changed him deeply.

“Through combat, you permanently change as a person, your personality, your belief system, you’re a different person,” McAllister said.

To McAllister, going to Iraq was a culture shock; coming home was just as much of a culture shock.

“I remember standing in my closet the first weekend I got back (home), and I was looking at all the civilian clothes, all of the choices, to where I just became completely overwhelmed,” McAllister said.

Veterans Day is important to McAllister, who appreciates that the day encompasses and acknowledges veterans from every era of war, and he enjoys hearing veterans’ different experiences.

However, as someone who works with veterans almost daily, McAllister recognizes that veterans have greater needs than parades and “thank you’s” from civilians.

“You can get a discount at Jiffy Lube or a free breakfast, but every day should be Veterans Day,” McAllister said. “If, as a spouse, I don’t love you for 364 days and then buy you chocolates on Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t make up for those other 364 days.

“It’s good that veterans have a day dedicated to them, but I think a lot of veterans would rather have reliable health care, get a job or go to school.”