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By Yesenia Flores
I was asked to write about the Standdown events by a comrade years ago. I was very much flattered to do so, after all I have participated in quite a few of them although at this point I cannot really give you a number when you ask how many I have volunteered for. They have become such a part of my life that I never really thought of keeping count, I just know that twice a year I dedicate a few days to clean up, organize, and feed the Vets. I have thought so much on how to eloquently speak about this event that, yes, it has taken me years to organize my thoughts. It is very tough to describe this even to those that have not experienced one on their own. It is chaotic, lots of running around, tons of clean up, stack this, throw this out, cook this, mix that. There are so many people involved that I also stopped trying to memorize names. Faces though, those I'm good at.
The event starts bright and early, either at six or eight in the morning depending on the day. As I am walking into the respective Armory that holds these events I am greeted by smiles by the Vets that have spent hours lined up ready for their number and tickets to be handed to them. Men and women who have lost a lot, and not just in the war but also in their time beyond their service. A lot of them thank me for being a volunteer. In moments like this I just want to hug them and weep, tell them there is no need to thank me. Tell them that I am sorry they find themselves in the predicament they do. Yet I get a smile from them, a good morning, and I have no other choice but to carry that smile with me throughout the day and work just that much harder for them.
Being a volunteer has allowed me to meet so many great people. People that devote their time to this cause on more than just those few days. They fight the good fight for Vets because they know they deserve that and more. I have also had the great pleasure of befriending Veterans whether of Vietnam, the Gulf war, or the still ongoing war against terrorism. Despite their experiences they are more than willing to lend a helping hand to a brother or sister in need. They talk about what they have gone through, and in those talks I gain so much knowledge, respect, love, and admiration for them. I admitted to one Vet how at times I find it uncomfortable to say "Thank you for your service" to Vets. Not because I am ungrateful but because I wish the situation in our country were a much better one and that their sacrifices made a difference. He was not offended by this at all, in fact he confided in me that he does not say that to Vets either. Instead he says "Welcome home." They might appear like two simple words, but to a Vet they might mean so much more. And even though home might be different to them now, this new approach of being welcomed could lead to a conversation and some understanding. I have learned throughout my volunteer work that sometimes all that a Vet needs is to know that they are being heard.
The Standdown events have become a home to me, a home to many others as well. It is our family reunion we go to twice a year. We check up on each other when we can, catch up on how the months between events have gone. We get older together, complain about our aches and pains. Yet we do it all with a smile on our face. We do it with the knowledge that the military women and men that attend the event will feel welcomed, loved, appreciated, and so much more. We also do it knowing we have a helping hand just around a corner when needed, our family is there to lend that hand. To my Standdown family reading this, see you soon!
Yesenia Flores has volunteered at the Chicago Standdown events in association with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. See www.vvaw.org for latest Chicago Standdown info.