A well-known leader of Columbus-area veterans has been awarded what is frequently called the “Veteran’s Oscar.”
Sgt. Maj. Rick Caldwell of the American Veterans (AMVETS) organization was one of the recipients of the organization’s Silver Helmet Awards presented during the AMVET 76th national convention in Greensboro, North Carolina.
A unique silver replica of the World War II GI helmet, the Silver Helmet award is presented for excellence and outstanding accomplishment in the fields of Americanism, defense, rehabilitation, congressional and civil service.
It was recently announced that Caldwell — a 2006 recipient of the Patriot Award — will be the keynote speaker at Columbus’ Veterans Day ceremony. The observance will begin at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11 near the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans.
During the national convention in August, Caldwell, 69, was honored with the 2020 Rehabilitation Award. In part, it was a recognition of his efforts to establish an AMVETS post at the New Castle Correctional Facility. Having grown to 65 members, the post within the prison facility has provided veterans an outlet in which to serve veterans and better themselves, according to an AMVETS presentation.
But the award also recognizes Caldwell’s work as the Chair Mentor for the local veteran’s legal council here in Columbus through the courts. He has also been credited with helping to start the South Central Indiana Military Support Network, which helps with employment, emergency funds, and enrollment with medical issues through the Veterans’ Administration.
Named a Sagamore of the Wabash in 2015 by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Caldwell has also been involved in organizing stand-downs.These are typically one-to three-day events providing supplies and services to homeless veterans, as well as health screenings and Veterans’ Administration benefits counseling. In addition, there is a weekly therapy session called Vet-To-Vet, which helps veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, that was largely the result of Caldwell’s efforts.
“I have a passion,” Caldwell said. “I know that less than 1% of the American public have served in the military. Some were drafted, while some volunteered. We get sent to wars that we never anticipated we would be going to, but we still did our jobs.”
Americans owe their freedom to our military forces, Caldwell said. He added that he “wants to make sure we recognize all of our veterans and give them everything they deserve.”
After arriving in Columbus in 1998, Caldwell would serve the next 14 years as director of risk management for the city of Columbus. It was while he was at City Hall that Caldwell helped revive the AMVETS post #509 at Camp Atterbury in 2002.
In 2008, Caldwell resigned as a reservist after serving in the U.S. Army for 32 years. During his military career, he served in the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War and the War on Terrorism.
“I mean, Rick has done it all,” said Zack Ellison, a Vietnam War veteran who received the Patriot Award the same year as Caldwell. “That would be a story in itself.”
After leaving his position with the city, Caldwell accepted a job as deputy director of logistics at Camp Atterbury.
Caldwell has worked for several veteran causes and recognition events that include:
Bringing the 240-foot Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall Experience to Columbus in 2002.
Helping present the Salute Concert in late May, as well as Veteran’s Day ceremonies in November.
Supporter and fundraiser for the Indy Honor Flight Network
Helped develop a new skill manufacturing program for incarcerated veterans that also helps them obtain well-paying jobs.
Assist with Habitat for Humanity and homeless shelters
Assists planning for activities for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and POW/MIA ceremonies both locally and at the state level
Supports fundraisers to benefit the Indiana Veterans Home in West Lafayette
Currently serving on the Veterans Events committee.
Served as commander of the Veterans of Foreign War Post #1987.
“There’s not a single thing Rick won’t jump into to help veterans and his community,” Ellison said. “But he goes about it quietly. He will not toot his own horn.”
That may explain why few people have been told of Caldwell’s national AMVETS award. Even Ellison, who works closely and regularly with Caldwell, said he had no idea that his colleague had received the Silver Helmet Award until this week.
AMVETS is a non-partisan, volunteer-led organization that advocates for its members as well as for causes that its members deem helpful to the nation at large.