StandDown

Jeremy Taff

Stand-down: a halt in normal military operations — Webster’s dictionary, McGraw-Hill edition.
More than 800 homeless military veterans “halted” this weekend from the harsh realities of life on the street at the sixth annual StandDown at the recreation fields of the University’s West Bank.
Funds raised from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and donations from the community helped provide homeless veterans with medical, dental, eye, foot and psychological care as well as legal aid, shelter, food, clothing and job training services — not to mention a good haircut.
There are about 2,400 homeless veterans living in Minnesota with 1,300 in Hennepin and Ramsey counties combined. Many of them are still suffering from the memories of their ordeals.
“A lot of people feel forgotten, especially Vietnam war veterans,” said Army Major Nancy Davis-Ortiz. “They came back and people spit on them.”
Davis-Ortiz, who volunteered for the weekend, graduated from the University in 1980 and teaches Spanish at an elementary school in Moundsview.
People from around the community, such as business professionals and University employees, have joined military personnel in volunteering for StandDown since it debuted in Minneapolis in 1993.
“This is the welcome home they never gave us from Nam, man,” Gerald H. Grufman said. Grufman flew to Vietnam in 1970 to spend four years in the Marine Corps. He volunteered his time this weekend helping out at the Sweat Lodge, where veterans gathered to spiritually heal themselves.
“We need to help each other,” said Vietnam veteran Gene Artishon as he stood outside the lodge. “Nobody is going to do it for us.”
Besides getting cleaned up, 90 veterans went to court Friday to clear their records. The veterans resolved old warrants for their arrest with help from University law students.
“Now he can go to work again and get that job he couldn’t get before,” said StandDown coordinator Bill Lindboe of a veteran. “There is no need for him to be on the street because of parking tickets.”
State and federal Internal Revenue Service workers also attended the StandDown this year for the first time. “Some vets who thought they owed money actually had money coming to them,” Lindboe said.
Some veterans use the weekend to meet some old friends. One came from Montana just to see his friends, Lindboe said.
Lindboe said the StandDown helps the state track homeless veterans. Volunteers photographed each veteran upon arrival and gave them a federal identification card. Then the veterans decided what services he or she required. After the veterans completed their treatments, military officials gave them clothing and sleeping bags.
After work Thursday, University facilities management electrician and Vietnam veteran JoAnne Fillmore helped set up for the StandDown.
“I could have ended up that way easy,” Fillmore said. “Fortunately, I had a lot of support from my family. We’re trying to be a comfort to those that don’t have a family.”
Fillmore said the trauma of war changed her life, and she warned people not to judge veterans too critically.
“I was never the same again after coming back,” Fillmore said. “Good or bad, they fought for our country and deserve our best.”