Milt Schoen, a Hennepin County Veterans Service Officer, remembers a homeless veteran who found a job using the employment service at Minnesota StandDown in 1993.
A year later, the man was able to give back to the organization, which helps homeless veterans, by donating $500, said Schoen, a Vietnam veteran. “The whole idea is to try to get people connected and get them beyond their problems.”
Since it started in 1993, Minnesota StandDown has taken place at the University’s West Bank Intramural Athletic Field. The fourth annual StandDown, which took place Friday through Sunday, attracted more than 620 needy veterans and their families.
Friday, the athletic field resembled a military camp. Army tents and volunteers in uniform were plentiful.
Veterans arrived by bus, on foot, in wheelchairs and on crutches. At a temporary camp site, veterans received food, clothing and medical examinations. Event organizers helped participants apply for veteran’s benefits and provided services including job placement and stress counselling.
The event featured a special community area accessible only to veterans. There, they could experience the kind of camaraderie that was an integral part of their military careers.
Stanley Sahlstrom, a member of the Board of Regents, said the University hosts Minnesota StandDown because the school has an ROTC program committed to military tra ining.
Sahlstrom, a retired Army Reserves Colonel who served in active duty in World War II, spoke on behalf of the University at the event’s opening ceremony.
“We are part of the community,” he said. “This is our way of saying to veterans ‘thank you.’ This is a special time for you. And we are here to serve you.”
In the military, a standdown means a respite from combat. But eight years ago veterans in San Diego, Calif., adopted the term for events they initiated to help fellow veterans living tough lives, Schoen said.
In 1993, about 300 veterans from the Korean War on attended the first Minnesota StandDown. By 1995, attendance had increased to about 450.
In late 1995, the organizers of Minnesota StandDown formed a nonprofit corporation. The organizations’ agenda has grown from aiding homeless veterans to helping them deal with issues such as poverty, unemployment, chemical dependency, physical and psychological health.
Preregistration of attendees usually starts a month and a half before the StandDown. Schoen said the majority of veterans who attended the previous StandDowns had served in the Vietnam War.
Hundreds of volunteers, including many military veterans, prepared the event. Some worked on fund raising. Other volunteers visited free food centers, homeless shelters, veterans hospitals and chemical dependency treatment facilities to preregister veterans for the event.
One of this year’s volunteers, Maj. Gen. Ray Bonnabeau of the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Fort Snelling, said he thinks it’s important to participate in the StandDown.
Bonnabeau said, “It’s time to hope, be honored, be helped, and accept our responsibility and hospitality for a job well done.”