Vets Work to Improve Baltimore's Toughest Areas

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Some veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are now answering the call to improve conditions right here at home.

The effort, known as Operation Oliver, is to improve one of Baltimore's toughest neighborhoods by refurbishing homes and playgrounds and removing trash.

"A lot of times when you exit the service ... you lose that sense of purpose," U.S. Army veteran Earl Johnson explained. "One moment you're cave to cave, you know, chasing insurgents. The next moment you're home watching TV."

But Johnson and other vets have found purpose by tackling inner city poverty in Baltimore.

"I want to be a part of that. Everybody wants to be part of something, once again, that is bigger than himself," he said.

The Oliver neighborhood is filled with abandoned houses, drugs, and violent gangs. Most of its residents earn less than $25,000.

"What we've seen in combat zones, in some ways we realize it's happening right here in Baltimore City," said Brian "BR" McDonald, founding director of the Veteran Artist Program, a group also participating in Operation Oliver.

Nearly 1,000 volunteers, including more than 100 veterans, have joined the effort, which started in July.

Johnson and his wife bought a house in the neighborhood as part of "Come Home Baltimore," a program that works to improve housing conditions in the community.

Local tradesmen renovate dilapidated houses, turning them into sellable homes. So far, 16 families have moved back into the neighborhood.

"Being a person that has lived in this area for practically all of my life, it's going to bring the neighborhood back," new homeowner Pat Bartee said.

The 6th Branch's goal is to have a veteran living on every block in the area, working with residents and in schools to build leadership and respect for the community.

After all the neighborhood fix-ups are done, these veterans say they're happy to be winning the war to liberate a city on the homefront.

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Charlene  Aaron

Charlene Aaron

CBN News Reporter

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter and helps anchor for the CBN News Channel.  Follow her on Twitter @CharNews and "like" her at Facebook.com/CharleneIsraelCBNNews.