News: Berks County Stand Down at Veteran's Grove
Story by Spc. David Thompson
READING, Pa. - Various veteran organizations came together for an armed forces Stand Down at Veteran’s Grove in Reading, Pa., on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. The primary purpose of the event was to help feed and clothe local veterans, many of whom are homeless.
A few of the organizations represented were the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club, the Armed Forces Brotherhood and Veterans Making a Difference. Maj. Mary L. Olodun, 326th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment commander, was also on hand to help support the event.
Doug Graybill and his wife, Liz, run Veterans Making a Difference and are passionate about providing services to veterans, as they are veterans themselves. Doug is Vietnam War veteran who also served in Grenada as a Marine scout sniper, while Liz served in Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Iraq. Doug is now a steel worker for a local company and Liz works for Veterans Affairs, but both spend as much free time as they can helping out local veterans.
Doug said he feels extremely blessed to be where he is today but understands that not all veterans are as fortunate as him.
“I am so thankful to have found Liz but I know many veterans still haven’t found the stability they had hoped for,” said Doug. “I feel blessed to have the life I have today. I have a home to go to after this. These guys don’t.”
Doug also said that it is an honor to be a veteran in his circumstance, because he can be an example for other veterans and has the ability to communicate effectively with them because they have shared similar experiences. Besides this event, Doug and Liz take lunches to veterans at various homeless camps around the Reading area and sit and spend time with veterans at the local VA hospitals. Doug estimates that there are currently between 60 to 70 homeless veterans in the Reading area alone.
Doug said one of the biggest issues that is facing veterans today is trust. Doug recalls his time after war, remembering how hard it was to trust people again.
“When I was in Vietnam, I trusted people with my life,” said Doug. “Here, I find little bond and people really don’t want to work as a team.”
He found it difficult to even like people because he found it hard to trust them. Doug also said that this issue of trust is keeping many veterans from getting the services they need.
Cherokee, lead organizer of the event and a member of the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club (SBMC), echoed much of the same sentiment, “I trusted people with my life and now they can’t understand.”
Cherokee is a veteran who spent his time in the Air Force as a Titan II Missile crew chief. He said he joined the SBMC 10 years ago because he wanted to be able to tell and hear stories that meant so much to him and fellow veterans. In the process, Cherokee said he began to find it easier to trust people again.
Doug and Cherokee both believe what they are doing is so beneficial because the need is so great.
“The VA can’t possibly get everything done,” said Cherokee. “Sometimes they don’t even know a veteran exists [in their community as a resident].”
Doug said the reason the VA doesn’t know about a veteran is typically because they have never came to the VA for assistance, or because a veteran doesn’t even know they qualify for veteran benefits.
Doug also acknowledged that there are still many veterans who are not in the VA system because they are still having a hard time trusting people, or as he stated, “They feel defeated by a process that has too much red tape. They get disgusted with the programs.”
Cherokee stated that he had to try multiple times before he was approved for veteran benefits.
“It’s going to take more than the VA,” said Cherokee. “The community has to know.”
Cherokee, along with the SBMC and other organizations, has taken a very personal stance in trying to bring the problem of veteran homelessness to light. Cherokee said he hopes to continue to localize the needs of veterans in the surrounding communities, creating awareness and challenging communities to actively participate in meeting the needs of veterans. He urges people to think twice about what they have.
“Instead of throwing away a pair of old shoes, try to find an organization like ours that will get them on the feet of a veteran in need,” said Cherokee.
He remains hopeful the problems veterans face today will change over time, but he also said, “Until it hits the neighbor down the street and we do something about it, nothing will ever change for these men and women who have served this country.”
Olodun is the neighbor down the street; her unit is located at the Reading Army Reserve Center next to Governor Mifflin School District. Her soldiers will take charge of one of the local Stand Downs to be held in Reading from March 6 – 8 as a creative field training event for active service members to give back to their supportive community through a campaign called “Soldiers Helping Veterans.”
Olodun said she is excited about undertaking this unique opportunity because veterans often respect and trust service members which, in turn, will help provide veterans with the direct assistance they need more easily.
“As long as we are part of this community, change for the better is inevitable,” said Olodun.