Battle Creek, Michigan, Oct. 23, 2016 —
Veterans Day was celebrated on October 21 in a small Battle Creek, Michigan, gymnasium with no flags, no band, and no speeches.
Gifts were given to around 500 veterans, items that had been packed and shipped in by DLA Disposition Services employees in nine states and two foreign countries.
Of course, it wasn’t the legal holiday version of Veterans Day. It was a Department of Veteran’s Affairs veteran stand down, one of hundreds held annually around the nation to help its thousands of homeless vets. What DLA provided would mean real warmth for those vets. For some, it also brought a renewed sense of pride.
It was not a one-of-a-kind event.
DLA Disposition Services sites all over the world get things turned in that can be used by homeless vets. The list of items shipped to the October 21 event provides a sampling. There were boots, cold weather shirts, rucksacks, towels and wash cloths, mittens, parkas rated for extreme cold, laundry bags, sleeping bags, and undershirts for use in cold weather.
Battle Creek’s event was part of a larger regional homeless outreach that served families and non-veterans and vets alike.
The activities focused on vets took place in a separate part of the facility as people predetermined to be eligible vets walked into a room to find a dozen or more service providers at tables.
Many first headed to a row of tables along one long wall of the room. Former Marines, sailors and soldiers and young volunteers stood behind the tables. One was Navy veteran Steven Adams.
Why was Adams volunteering to hand out gear? Simple, he said.
“I was homeless and they (VA) helped me out, now I can help,” Adams said.
He said the kinds of items being handed out were “the basic essentials to get through the day.”
Tim B and Dan F worked their way along the tables. At the first table, each had gotten a rucksack (in military lingo: Pack, Assault, MOLLE). While the packs were in an Army camo pattern, that was no problem for Navy vet Tim or Air Force vet Dan. And each was willing to step out of the line to talk about being homeless - but asked to not be identified by their last names
Dan said he had been homeless and then, for a time, found a home. But that was in the past. As a result of continuing substance abuse problems, he said, “I put myself out on the street.” A person he was working with at VA suggested he attend the stand down. As he held his rucksack, he said getting the clothing and blankets on the table next to him would “make it easier for me to get on.”
Tim said he had a brain injury and substance abuse problems. “I struggled for years,” he said quietly, “but now I go to the VA every day and they’re keeping me alive.”
Like Dan, Tim said he valued the clothing and gear for what it would mean in his daily life. He was asked how getting the gear made him feel.
“It’s awesome. It’s given me a sense of pride. It makes me think back to when I was serving,” he said.
The Battle Creek event provided items that came from DLA Disposition Services sites at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Warner Robbins, Georgia; Aviano, Italy; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Fort Riley, Kansas; Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; Red River, Texas; and Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
The list of all sites taking part in supplying the stand downs is much longer, according to Kevin P. O’Connell, VA’s national stand down coordinator.
O’Connell said that in fiscal 2016 his operation in VA made some 8,000 requisitions from DLA Disposition Services, often for many or multiple items. Those went to 353 stand downs attended by approximately 75,000 veterans.