BUHS grad, Army vet finds way to help others - and himself

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SIEM REAP, Cambodia — For a Vernon, Vt., man, his road to recovery after serving 15 months in Iraq was hitting the road.

"My initial purpose was to not be traveling during wartime," said Tony Macie, "to reposition my mind to the world."

Macie, a 2005 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School, had not had the opportunity to see the world until he joined the U.S. Army. In 2008, he received a discharge as a sergeant with a back injury.

"I had a really hard time coping with the transition," said Macie, now 30. "I had PTSD and a prescription drug dependency."

With the help of the Warrior Connection, a local nonprofit that hosts residential retreats and provides services to veterans and their families, and Dr. Anne Black, the Warrior Connection's founder and program director, Macie was able to confront and defeat his personal demons.

Macie said traveling as a civilian and not a soldier was his first attempt at proving to himself he wasn't a prisoner of his PTSD.

"It was also very healing to go, be by myself and interact with people and experience other cultures," he said.

Macie, who talked with the Reformer via Skype from Cambodia, chose to visit Southeast Asia because of its past relationship with the United States. While he was healing himself, he realized he had found something he desperately needed — a new mission. "It was a real light-bulb moment for me. When I came to Cambodia, I didn't know anything about the genocide. I was taken aback by how resilient this country is. The people are absolutely amazing, so friendly and graceful. They have very little but they don't hesitate to offer you a roof and some food."

In response, Macie had "a calling to help." This brought about the establishment of Expert-Exchange, which he describes as a new type of deployment, open to veterans and civilians alike. With the help of fellow veterans and friends in Vermont, Macie established Expert-Exchange, "an outlet for veterans to become a part of a team again and use their skills they learned from the military to help develop and rebuild communities," according to its website, http://www.expert-exchange.org. Expert-Exchange is seeking people with expertise in fields as diverse as IT, engine repair, irrigation and emergency medical care.

"The uniformed services has equipped numerous brave men and women for skills beyond the battle field," states the website. "Expert-Exchange now supplies an exciting compassionate alternative for veterans and offers a worthy cause to become apart of again."

Expert-Exchange deploys skilled people on 30-day programs to help impoverished families and connect them with the correct communities and NGOs. "Our volunteers are educators, risk assessors and adjudicators all in one," notes the website. "If you have the expertise and a thirst for adventure, then we want you in the field to help leverage communities out of poverty."

Macie has been in Cambodia since November 2014 building relationships, establishing support systems and identifying underprivileged yet motivated individuals deserving of sponsorship, notes the website. Now he is connecting donors to deserving candidates, "underwriting capable young people empowers their ambitions [improving the] quality of life for their families and their home communities."

Macie's duties include serving as "a risk assessor," to identify and evaluate candidates and acting as a mediator between donors and those who need assistance.

Macie, and other volunteers, also mentors the recipient to help them manage their sponsorship and achieve their goals.

"This is what I am passionate about," he told the Reformer. "Expert-Exchange is not about me; it's about the idea."

While his main focus has been on getting veterans involved, Macie said it's also a rewarding opportunity for doctors, nurses and academics. And even though the deployments are 30 days at a time, he said, this is a long-term project. "When I take on a project, it's an agreement that I will be here until the kids I sponsor graduate. The medical project we have right now is expected to last 10 to 16 years."

He said it's hard on his family in Vernon, being so far away, but they all understand and support his project.

"The world is a beautiful place," said Macie. "There is so much that can be done."

He also encourages Americans to travel to get out of their "bubbles" and show people that Americans are as varied as the country they come from.

Staying apolitical in the current political climate can be tough, he admitted, but "I try to do my work so people see what some Americans are doing on the ground, rather than what they see in the news. Politics stay at the door. I care about helping veterans, and by helping others we also help our country."

Projects being sponsored by Expert-Exchange include providing supplies, clothing and toys to school children; digging wells and providing medical supplies for small communities; purchasing bicycles for small-scale entrepreneurs; and teaching people how to deal with medical emergencies. Donations come from people and organizations around the world. Locally, with the help of Expert-Exchange, Brattleboro Elks BPOE No. 1499 connected with Cambodian Buddhism Association for Vulnerable Children, which has developed water wells in more than a dozen villages.

In the United States, Alan Scott-Moncrieff, of Manchester, Vt., is the chief development officer, and Karen Andersen, who lives in Colorado, is the manager of programs and development. Local board members include Dana Coughlin and Michael Root, both of Vernon.

To learn more, visit http://www.expert-exchange.org.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.

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