Stand Down a good reminder

Uneasy Chair

Posted 8/7/19

Last month, while crafting a talk about veteran services, Paul Cahill found a data chart that shows on a per-capita basis, there are more veterans in Jefferson County than in King County.

Cahill, …

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Stand Down a good reminder

Uneasy Chair

Posted

Last month, while crafting a talk about veteran services, Paul Cahill found a data chart that shows on a per-capita basis, there are more veterans in Jefferson County than in King County.

Cahill, the local service officer for Disabled American Veterans, said it was a good reminder of the need for events like “Veterans Stand Down,” the one-stop regional bazaar at which veterans find everything from expert help with complex VA programs to free haircuts by barbers and stylists who just want to do something nice.

Standing in the breezeway outside the Elks Lodge where last month’s Stand Down took place, Cahill said the comparison to King County makes sense, given that Seattle now skews young and high-tech.

Whatever the explanation for Jefferson County’s distinction as home base for veterans, Cahill’s statistics are a reminder that this county is more diverse than we think.

The common caricature of Port Townsend—grey-haired hippies sticking it to the Man-—obscures the reality.

When groupthinkers, and smart-alek columnists, forget Port Townsend is only one flavor of Jefferson County, they reinforce divisions that may make valuable members of our communities feel unwelcome in their county seat.

Thoughtless anti-Viet Nam protesters, mostly self-righteous juveniles, did incalculable psychic damage to veterans returning from that war. It’s hard enough to be drafted and trained to kill. When the country that demanded it then casts you out, is it any wonder some veterans struggle?

Military service, once a shared experience across class, race and political affiliation, is now a sub-culture that is in places deeply distrustful of “civilians.” Until we find an alternative to war, compassion demands we help combat veterans re-integrate and treat them as neighbors. Maybe ease back on a knee-jerk anti-soldier approach when questioning the Growler base or the non-nuclear munitions magazine at Indian Island.

One way is to help out the volunteers and leaders of Veteran Stand Down.

 

Soldiers are people, too.

One of the veterans I met at Stand Down, Quilcene native Chris Stevens, will come right out and tell you he and his soon-to-be wife Sarah have struggled since he got home from driving a truck in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Sarah, loading into their trunk the eggs and muffins and kids’ clothes Stand Down volunteers handed out, raised her eyebrows and smiled when teased about Chris spilling to a reporter that he’s ready to get married. “We’ve had a rough patch here and there,” Stevens said, catching the look, “But no matter what, we’ve got back together.” They’ll get by with a little help from all of us.

For two Navy veterans from Bremerton I met, the low-key event offered pathways to nursing education and housing. Isn’t that what we hope for: soldiers returning to the mundane realities of civilian life with the support recruiters promised?

Robert Hersey, a VA outreach counselor said it’s no surprise they need help transitioning into civilian life. Moving from one world to the other, service members are bombarded with new terms and requirements and that overload means some information slips by. The Stand Down atmosphere, informal and official all at the same time, is a good place to fill in the gaps.

Hersey and Jon Brash, Voices for Veterans’ onsite manager of the Stand Down event encouraged supporters of military veterans to contact Voices for Veterans to donate time, money or services to the effort.

It seems like the least we can do, especially if we hope to learn how to beat swords into plowshares.

(Dean Miller is Editor of the Leader.)

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