Standing 6 feet 6 inches, Jeff Walton is not the kind of guy you'd call weak.
Last year an explosion in Iraq left the Army specialist in need of one thing few soldiers ever want to ask for – help.
The Mocksville resident turned to Veterans Affairs. On Saturday, Walton was at a gathering in Mooresville, hoping to convince others to do the same.
“A lot of military people either don't realize help is out there or they don't want it,” Walton said. “They are taught to just suck it up. But there is nothing wrong with helping yourself get better.”
Walton was among more than 200 veterans who showed up Saturday at Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports for the second annual veterans exhibition hosted by the VA Medical Center in Salisbury.
The event, held before the Veterans Day holiday on Tuesday, featured vendors offering services for everything from medical needs to employment to education.
The goal, said medical center director Carolyn Adams, was to celebrate veterans and alert them to available services.
“They have certainly earned them,” she said.
The local VA has worked with more than 7,000 veterans from the Iraq War, but Adams said at least that many are still in need.
Dale Beatty of Statesville attended. The former N.C. National Guard staff sergeant lost both legs below the knees in Iraq. A mine detonated through the floor of his Humvee.
With prosthetics he's able to do all the things he used to do, even golf. He said Saturday that a lot of veterans don't want to ask for help.
“Some guys are too proud,” he said. “Hopefully, events like this one show them it is OK to embrace help.”
Walton learned to accept help quickly, after he was injured in south Baghdad last December. It was almost Christmas when his convoy hit an explosive device.
Walton suffered severe injuries to his right arm. A scar now marks the spot where his tricep once was.
Walton worked with several agencies, including the VA and the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit that helps wounded soldiers transition into the civilian world through therapy, training and work programs.
But the Davie County high school teacher said he worries for the thousands of soldiers who have come home with hidden injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“A lot of guys come home and need help and never get it,” he said.