Veterans gather for free services, cameraderie


Veterans gather for free services, cameraderie (06/15/13)

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Veterans I spoke to say the stand down is as much about camaraderie as it is about the services provided.

Belgrade resident and Navy veteran Art Stevenson gets his hair cut for free. It's his third stand down. He tells me it's a good excuse to get out of the house and take some time for himself.

"Got a shot...a jacket, sleeping bag and a backpack," explains Stevenson.

More importantly for Stevenson, it's an opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones.

"I like coming to the stand downs and seeing the old vets," Stevenson tells me.
Mike Parks served in the Air Force for four years. It's his first time at the stand down but he says he'll be coming back.

"It helps us all out and brings us together as a community," says Parks.

Vets only needed proof of military service to access over 30 providers, from the VA Healthcare Network to chiropractors and hair stylists to Job Service. They're all volunteers, all there on their own time.

That's not to mention the building full of military surplus gear, ranging from packs and sleeping bags to combat boots.

Ken Kreitzer and his family were at the fair grounds working at the pig barn when he heard about the stand down.

"Absolutely amazed," he says. "This is a huge deal for veterans," says Kreitzer.

But Kreitzer didn't spend too much time on gear or services. He explains, for him, it was about being with other veterans and the camaraderie of serving.

"I was in the marine corps and there's a word called 'Esprit de Corps'. It is community, basically, that's what it means and that's what this is. It's a community of veterans," Kreitzer says.

For his wife Peggy, it was an opportunity to show appreciation for the sacrifices these military men and women made for their country.

"You don't know who a soldier is or who isn't but when you come together like this and you can find those kind of people and say 'thank you' for what they've done," explains Peggy Kreitzer.

While the Stand Down focused on homeless veterans and civilians, veterans and the public were invited to take advantage of services and gear.

We checked with coordinators and learned eight of the close to 250 who attended checked "homeless" when they registered. Another 16 civilians pre-registered through the Hope House, a resource for those with mental illness.

Coordinators tell us close to half of the vets who showed up served in the middle east and Vietnam.

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