By EMILY HALL
The Kitsap County Veterans Stand Down provided me more than just a “thank you” for my military service.
The transition I experienced leaving the Marine Corps was one of the hardest things I have had yet to endure. It’s like visiting another planet — civilian life seems like a complete 180 from all that I knew during the past several years of my life — and each day, trying to make the ends meet, seemed like I was fighting an uphill battle for the longest time.
After almost two years of trying to do it all on my own following my honorable discharge, I moved back to Kitsap County to attend college. One day, while I was at a food bank in Bremerton, I noticed a brochure for the Kitsap County Veterans Stand Down. Reviewing it, I noticed that there were many services that I was entitled to, ranging from help applying for benefits to free clothing — and even a hot meal.
I decided that by attending this event, I could network with other veterans who could help me access the services and veterans benefits I earned. There was virtually no reason for me not to go. As a veteran in need, I determined that I deserved to get the resources to help me become a better member of society.
So on the balmy autumn morning of Sept. 26, I entered the Kitsap Fairgrounds Pavilion where the event took place. The facilities were flooded with hometown heroes for the biannual Stand Down. Upon entry, I was asked for proof of military service and then ushered in to fill out paperwork to help make my needs known.
The service officers that admitted me were very kind, understanding, and nonjudgmental. It didn’t matter to them what I was going through; in their eyes, they viewed me as an individual striving to get the help I needed. As I visited the booths of the many vendors and volunteers participating in this fair, I could see that many other vets like me were getting the support they needed. Some of them were smiling from cheek to cheek.
Abraham’s House provided home items and warm clothing. A mobile dental van provided dental cleanings. One room in the corner of the pavilion was reserved for women veterans, serving as a quiet place to talk.
Next, at around 11 a.m., a free lunch was served. The other veterans and I enjoyed our warm food at tables centered in the middle of the convention center, and in that moment, we all dined again as brothers and sisters in arms.
The event drew to a close at 2 p.m. Buses were lined up to take vets without rides back to the “LZ,” or drop-off point, at various Salvation Armies throughout North and South Kitsap.
I came to the event in need of assistance and with an empty stomach, and left with arms full of groceries and clothing to help me for the chilly months ahead. I drove home feeling empowered and satisfied, two feelings I hadn’t felt in the months prior to this event.
In the past, local branches of service organizations would convene to grant indigent or disabled veterans with what they needed to get back on their feet. When the Kitsap County Veterans Alliance was established in December 2006, county commissioners were better informed of the needs of veterans residing in Kitsap County. Consequently, the county and state governments were more aware of veterans’ presence and were better able to accommodate their needs.
Thus, the Kitsap County Veterans Stand Down takes place twice a year — once in spring and the second time in the autumn. Because of my positive experience at the Stand Down, I am most likely to attend the next one in the spring.
To help sponsor the next Kitsap County Veterans Stand Down, contact Stacey James of the Kitsap County Veterans Program, 360-337-4811. “Kitsap County loves to help their veterans,” James said.
Dean Herring, another representative of the veterans program, thanks all vendors and volunteers for participating.
— Emily Hall is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. She is a student at Olympic College and an intern at the North Kitsap Herald.