Cody Halvorson may only be 23 years old, but he has been through more than most men his age.
Halvorson has five years of military experience, having served in Afghanistan in 2006 through 2007.
He also was one of many veterans present at the annual Veterans Appreciation Day picnic at Longwood Park in Gainesville. The event, held by the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17, celebrated its fifth year with food, fun and admiration.
"We do this once a year for the veterans, and we ask for all the veterans, service men and women, and their families to come," said Wendy Paradis, Commander of Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 17. "This is our way of thanking them for everything."
Halvorson said that he always had a desire to serve his country, and he experienced many positive benefits by joining the Army, such as having school taken care of.
Halvorson is now going to school in Georgia to study nursing.
"That is another thing that the Army exposed me to - a gradual increase in medical knowledge," Halvorson said. "I found out that that's really fun stuff."
When Halvorson first came back from Afghanistan in the summer of 2007, he was faced with mixed feelings.
"You are glad to be home, but it is something that you have been doing, so you kind of want to stay," he said.
Halvorson said it is a "good feeling" to be able to come to an event that honors veterans, but he considers his time in the Army a job like any other.
"To know that there is appreciation, regardless of the political opinions on the war, that is really nice," Halvorson said.
But veterans haven't always received a warm welcome.
"I am from the Vietnam era, and unfortunately, people were spit on," Paradis said. "They weren't honored the way that they should have been, and so this is our way of honoring everyone and telling them that they are all important to us."
The veterans and their families enjoyed barbecued chicken and hot dogs, sno-cones and more. This also was the first year in which the honor guards of the Hall County Sheriff's Office and Gainesville Police Department were combined during the event.
Paradis said the picnic offered good information as well.
"There are some issues that I want to discuss today, which include overmedicating veterans," she said. "I am concerned with that issue because it could cause the death of a veteran and someone else if they are taking too much medication."
"Another concern of mine is how people coming out of the service right now are only getting 10 percent ratings for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and traumatic brain injury and not being diagnosed, in my opinion, correctly," Paradis said. "I think that they need to have a better evaluation at the hospital, and I think they need to be more extensive."
Members of Corner-Stone Church were at the Appreciation Day offering to help veterans with yard work such as mowing the lawn.
Paradis is also trying to build up membership for the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17.
"If anyone wants to be a member that has just transferred to this area, we would love to have them in our chapter," she said.