New veterans service officer on board for Crawford County
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A Crawford County veteran, who has come full circle with his involvement with the military, is now working with fellow veterans to get them the benefits that they have earned.
John Steele started his job as the veterans service officer for Crawford County Veterans Service Office on June 12.
Steele’s family moved to Grayling from Farmington in Oakland County when he was a teenager.
“I hated the city,” Steele said. “When we got up here it was unbelievable – it was like Shangri-la. You used to wait until deer season to come up and go hunting and fishing on weekends. Now, I had it right in my backyard, so it was great. I loved it.”
A 1977 Grayling High School graduate, Steele joined the U.S. Army in 1979 and served with the military police and then as a recruiter. He switched military branches and served as a U.S. Marine Corps recruiter for two years, then rejoined the U.S. Army to pick up his recruiting duties.
Steele said that switching between branches of the military is not possible these days because it requires the person to take a drop in their rank.
“Back in those days you could do that, and now you can’t,” he said.
Steele enjoyed being able to travel the country with his positions in the service.
“I would have liked to have gotten overseas, but unfortunately by the time that came about, I was already a career recruiter, so I was pretty much keeping in the continental 48 states at that point,” he said.
Steele retired in 2002 and returned to Grayling. He was hired to serve as an armed guard at Camp Grayling, and was then promoted to serve as the security supervisor in 2011.
Steele said accepting the job as veterans service officer for the county rounds out his experience with the military.
“I basically put them in the military, kind of protected them while they were out at Camp Grayling and now I’m going to help after they’ve got out of the military,” he said.
Steele is working with David Seaford, a veterans service officer for the Disabled American Veterans, to process claims on behalf of veterans. Steele will need to obtain accreditation before he can submit claims for veterans on his own.
“It will go a lot smoother once I’m done with the course, but up to that point I’m just getting my feet wet,” Steele said.
Judy Umlor, who served as Crawford County’s first county-funded veterans service officer since January 27, 2105, recently retired. Jack Jackson, a part-time veterans service officer, also resigned to take a similar position downstate.
Steele was familiar with Umlor since she worked at Camp Grayling as an ammunition handler for the base’s ammunition supply point before taking the job with the county.
“She was great help around here – big time,” Steele said of Umlor’s getting the veterans service office up and running.
Steele said the position requires the veterans service officer to learn about other services that may be available to veterans outside of what they are eligible to receive from federal and state government.
“It’s not just a one step, I can’t help you, and good luck,” Steele said. “You have to refer them someplace else at that point.”
Crawford County Sheriff Kirk A. Wakefield, a member of the Crawford County veterans council, hopes Steele will stick with his position for a the long-term, acknowledging the success of the previous veterans service officers.
“I think their view was short-term, where I think John’s is going to be around a little longer,” Wakefield said. “That’s what we need. We need some stability.”
Wakefield has worked with Steele for several years to provide security for Camp Grayling and the troops that train there.
“I’ve been to a lot of meetings with him. He’s very professional and very straightforward. I think he’s a detailed-oriented guy,” Wakefield said. “I think he will do a great job. His heart is in the right place and the whole thing is about helping veterans.”
Crawford County Undersheriff Shawn Kraycs, a U.S. Navy and Michigan Army National Guard veteran who also serves on the county veterans service council, also has a strong rapport with Steele.
“He’s the best of the best,” Kraycs said.
Voters at the Nov. 4, 2014 election polls approved a 0.25 mill proposal for the purpose of funding, equipping, staffing, maintaining, and operating a Crawford County Veterans Services Office. The millage raises about $142,500 per year to provide office and staff to assist all qualified veterans, their eligible spouses, and families. The millage will be levied for five years.