It has been six and a half years since the Cheatham County Commission appointed Robert “Bob” Counter as Cheatham County Veterans Service Officer, selected from a group of 27 applicants vying for the position, including his wife, Kelley.
On June 28, the 66-year-old native of west Nashville officially retired, noting that the departure for many is clearly bittersweet.
“Anything we can do to help a veteran — I don’t care what it is — I’m gonna do what I can to take care of it,” Counter said, adding that many times he has stayed at the office as late as 9 p.m.
According to Cheatham County Mayor Kerry McCarver, the three-member Veterans Services Committee of the county commission will select the new director.
Counter served in the Air Force for nearly 23 years, worked as a government contractor for 12 years and also worked as a civil servant before assuming the role of VSO.
He said that the county commission moved money in the budget to make the VSO position a reality, noting that commissioners Walter Weakley, Donnie Jordan and Jimmy Hedgepath were very involved in that decision.
“This is not a job, but a calling,” he said. “They come here because there is problem, things like compensation. There are often financial challenges. We get them what they deserve, and when we give them the tools they need to get the job done — they’ll get it done.”
One of the accomplishments Counter said he is most proud of is working to strengthen the self-esteem of many veterans.
“It was a sore spot for many veterans and not just Vietnam veterans,” he said. “For a while, many didn’t even say they were veterans, but now they say they are veterans, and they are proud of it.”
Counter said he has seen a lot more respect and honor for Cheatham County veterans, especially with the dedication of many county bridges in the names of fallen soldiers.
“These young men died making sure I can do what I do,” he said. “What I have to do is take care of these guys.”
Counter also worked for five years working on a flight line for B-52s bombing navigation systems, He initially chose electronics as his field of interest and wound up serving in a number of fields.
“I used to do a lot of counseling as part of military training and met many who suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” he said. “I wanted to help them gain an even footing, especially since their serving us works to keeping us free.”
He met his wife in Honolulu. The couple will celebrate 27 years of marriage in just a few months.
Kelley, a retired colonel in the Air Force, and Bob live in Cheatham County along the Cumberland River.
The VSO office has come a long way from the conference table in the Tucker Empsom Building on Main Street. It moved to a small office in the building before landing in a space as part of the Cheatham County government complex at Sycamore Square.
Lisa Ware has served as County Service Officer since March 2015, and Counter said he could not be more pleased by her contribution in helping the VSO to grow in numbers and quality service.
“He has taken the office from starting with one yellow pencil to the amazing office we have today,” Ware said. “Our veterans went from skeptical of the VA to feeling like family when they come into the office. Bob’s humble advocacy for our veterans made this happen. He set a strong foundation for us to continue to build on for our veterans. We plan to carry on what we began. He will be greatly missed.”
Looking back on his service as VSO, Counter’s voice began to break a bit as his eyes welled up.
“They are my troops, and I want to have that sense that I’m needed as much as I have now,” he said.