Veterans Day speaker spent 23 years in military

Nathan Oster

Tom Bercher had dual roles in Friday morning’s Veterans Day program at Greybull Middle School.
Normally the bagpiper, a role he’s played since moving to Big Horn County in 2013, Bercher was invited to speak this year and he shared some of his experiences with middle and high school students who filled one side of the GMS Gym.
He said he joined the military in 1983, right out of high school.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to do something other than what I was doing at the time,” he said. “I’d already taken the military entrance exam and found out that I could join the infantry and get $8,000.  In 1983, $8,000 seemed like a lot of money, so I joined the infantry.
He left active duty after four years, returning to the workforce, but he remained in the Army reserves. In 1995, he joined the 362nd Psychological Operations Company (POC), which eventually led to a peacekeeping deployment in Bosnia in 1997 and deployments to Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2005.
In Bosnia, he and his men helped with elections as well as in the distribution of medical aid, setting up of schools, radio stations and newspapers.
Bercher spent 14 months in Iraq — most of it based in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. He said he was on the road nearly every single day, taking care of his teams who were spread out across the country.  After his deployment, he worked as a trainer, preparing people for their own Iraq deployments.
He retired in 2006, ending a 23-year military career.  In 2013, he moved to Big Horn County, where he and his wife Rebecca reside.  Tom is involved in Saddles in Service Wyoming, a nonprofit organization that helps active-duty military, veterans and first responders who suffer from PTSD, using horses, the mountains and the beauty of this area to reach them.
“I am very proud to have served my country,” he told the students. “A veteran is someone who served in the military and has been discharged honorably. It doesn’t mean you had to be in a war.  You don’t have to be in a war to be a vet.  I know many who have been in the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines who didn’t go to war, served their time and are veterans.  They deserve to be honored on this day every bit as much.
“The military gave me so many opportunities ... when I was stationed in Germany, I went all over Europe.  I’ve been in almost 50 countries, ridden camels in Jordan at Petra, walked the beaches of Normandy with my two sons, where so many soldiers gave their lives. I get very emotional talking about veterans.  A lot of them didn’t come back with their full faculties, men and women alike, and that’s why I do Saddles in Service.”
Bercher’s other passion is his family.  Wife Rebecca is a veteran in her own right, having served in military intelligence. They met in Bosnia. Their kids have followed in their footsteps.  Augustus is in the 82nd Airborne. Seamus is in the Air Force, serves as an airborne cryptolinguist and speaks fluent Korean.