READING, Pa. - Residents near GoggleWorks Center for the Arts were surprised by an occupation of Army Reserve soldiers conducting operations in their neighborhood. Instead of combat patrols, these soldiers assisted community organizations to combat local homelessness during a military stand down March 6-8.
Once a month, veteran organizations, Second Brigade Motorcycle Club and Veterans Making a Difference, team up to host a military stand down aimed at supporting homeless and at-risk veterans.
What made this stand down different from previous ones is that it was the first veterans stand down in Berks County to be led by an Army Reserve unit, the 326 Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD) located in Reading, PA.
Robert E. Youse, a former Navy Seabee and homeless veteran at the stand down said, “The military, at that time, was the best thing that happened to me.”
After leaving the Navy in 1982, Youse decided to move to Reading because it was, as he describes, “Booming with all types of jobs.”
Unfortunately, He explained that Reading is now rated as one of the poorest cities in the country, so there isn’t much opportunity for substantial employment, which leaves an obscure path for anyone who is looking for work, especially at his age of 52.
Despite being down on his luck, Youse gave back by volunteering at the stand down.
“I’ll help any veteran any way I can,” Said Youse. “Veterans are my family.”
Youse was not alone in this idea of a military family.
Liz Graybill, who co-runs Veterans Making a Difference and works at the Department of Veterans Affairs explained that she appreciates what she has been blessed with in her own life after the military, and that compels her to give back.
Graybill said that Veterans Making a Difference has developed a working relationship with the VA, which has been able to assist displaced veterans by helping them get their discharge paperwork, medical benefits, money and housing. She hopes to get them back on their feet, raise their self-esteem and independence.
Graybill said that if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to lift a fallen comrade.
The common theme among these community leaders is that they all have vested interest in the well being of their current and former military comrades.
After Maj. Mary L. Olodun, 326th MPAD commander, approached Robin “Cherokee” Gilmore, Second Brigade Motorcycle Club leader, about combining resources for a U.S. Army Reserve led stand down, it created a whirlpool of interest.
“I jumped at the Idea,” said Cherokee. “It’s something that we need now.”
Cherokee said that in addition to proving food, clothing, and toiletries, the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club is providing volunteer staff so that this inaugural event may be a success.
Cherokee believes that there are too many homeless and at-risk veterans for the VA to take care of but, he stresses that through the help of the Army Reserve, enthusiastic community leaders, veterans organizations and donations from past and present military service members, a lot can be accomplished.
The assembly of this event attracted people who otherwise would not have volunteered.
Tammy Malitzki-Barlet, a former Coast Guardsman was watching the local WFMZ-69 evening news when she heard about the stand down.
“Being a veteran, I wanted to come out and help my fellow veterans,” said Malitzki-Barlet. She had heard of stand downs in other cities and saw an opportunity to volunteer during her free time.
Malitzki-Barlet said she thinks this is important, because a lot of veterans don’t understand the benefits they are eligible for. She said she wants to ensure that other veterans know that their communities will stand beside them after they have served.
Malitzki-Barlet was not alone when she said she felt warmth in her heart knowing, that there were so many people in the community who want to help the homeless vets.