SOLDIER ON: ECHO concert assists veterans

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The band Junior Jr. performs in Pailin's Alley during the day-long Elizabeth City Hero Operations Concert for Soldiers benefit at Coasters Downtown Draughthouse, Saturday. Band members are (from left) Byrd Haynes, Duf Franco, Robert Stallings and Niki Roberts.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Veterans aren’t just the beneficiaries of ECHO’s semi-annual “Concert for Soldiers” series in Elizabeth City; they also make up a share of the audience.   

Tim Caplinger, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1984-92, was among the crowd attending the most recent Concert for Soldiers at Coasters Downtown Draught House and Pailin’s Alley Saturday night.

The concerts, which are held every six months at the North Poindexter Street nightspot, raise funds for the Elizabeth City Hero Operations, or ECHO, a local nonprofit whose mission includes raising more awareness about wounded veterans and their families and making a positive difference and their lives.

Besides paying for wounded veterans to go on fishing trips to the Outer Banks, ECHO also helps support the Fisher House, which gives military and veterans families a place to stay without charge while a loved one is hospitalized.

Caplinger, 61, is no stranger to helping veterans and their families. He’s a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclists formed to provide escorts to soldiers’ funerals and shield them from potential protesters.

"Unfortunately, I've stood for more funerals that I care to remember for our soldiers coming back," said Caplinger, who earned the rank of aviation machinist’s mate third class in the Navy. 

Caplinger, now a civilian employee at Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City, also attends the funerals of those who, like him, formerly served in uniform. Just last Friday, he and other Patriot Guard Riders attended the funeral of a retired Coast Guard master chief in Elizabeth City.

Caplinger said Saturday’s Concert for Soldiers was the first he’s attended. He said he was at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060 in Elizabeth City on Saturday when someone mentioned the concert. He said he and several other VFW members got on their motorcycles and decided to check it out.

"Anything that somebody puts on, whether it be a cookout, a meet-and-greet, a concert and the proceeds go to the veterans, I'm all about it," he said.

Also in attendance at Saturday’s ECHO concert was Chris Perkinson, a local musician who performs at ECHO concerts.

"They're always in the community helping out," he said of ECHO. "So, I thought, what better way to lend a hand and to get up and sing some songs and to help them raise some money?"

Perkinson, who first heard about ECHO through mutual friends at the VFW, said he hopes his music has a positive effect on veterans in his audiences.

"Hopefully it just lifts their spirits. Music is kind of a healer," he said.

Perkinson, 34, knows all about veterans’ need to heal.

A former combat medic who served in the U.S. Army from 2006-12, including a tour in Iraq from 2008-10, Perkinson suffered a torn left shoulder while picking up a patient. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain in both legs.

Also attending Saturday’s concert was Allison Chandler, who served in the Coast Guard from 1982-2012, earning the rank of personnel warrant officer. 

Chandler, who also volunteers with the local Special Olympics, got involved in ECHO not long after it formed. As someone who served in the Coast Guard for 31 years, she enjoys giving back to veterans and says events like the ECHO concerts give them, particularly those with disabilities, a big boost.

"We tend to forget our disabled vets — male and female — and this is a great way for the community, this small little community, to come together and support our veterans," she said. "It makes them feel part of the community and that they're not forgotten."

Too many veterans don’t know help is available for them, Chandler said. Events like the ECHO concerts help raise veterans’ awareness that "there's still people out there that care," she said.

Scott Adlon is another early ECHO volunteer. He said he and a group of friends were trying to put together fundraising events for veterans and wanted to do something that would keep any dollars raised closer to home.

Staging the semi-annual concerts seemed like a can’t-miss because “everyone loves music” and “it brings people together," he said.

Like many others involved with ECHO, Aldon is himself a veteran. He served in the Army from 1983-86, serving as a gunner aboard an M2 Bradley fighting vehicle and earning the rank of sergeant. Adlon would go on to serve in the Coast Guard as well, working as a rescue swimmer and earning the rank of petty officer first class during his service from 1987 to 2004.

Coasters owner Debra Swain hosts the semi-annual Concerts for Soldiers. She said her late father, Ronald Collins, served in the Navy for more than 19 years, so she knows what military life is like.

She said a lot of veterans are like her father — not eager to talk much about their military service. That’s why it’s important to hold events like the ECHO concerts, to show appreciation to veterans for their service to the country.

"These people are my friends," she said.