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McConnell Airmen 'Stand Down' for homeless veterans

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Ashley Conner
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
At any given time the Air Force has thousands of personnel deployed supporting the war on terrorism. Decades ago, it was the Vietnam conflict and the Korean War.

What happened to the veterans who fought for our nation then?

Some of those veterans who now find themselves homeless made their way to downtown Wichita, Kan., Sept. 29 to receive aid provided by the Wichita Stand Down for Homeless Veterans, assisted by Airmen from McConnell Air Force Base and members of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

During the Vietnam conflict, most servicemembers understood that "Stand Downs" allowed the troops to move to safe areas to shower, change clothes, eat a hot meal and relax.

This year's Stand Down, the seventh annual event, meant very much the same thing. The doors opened at 10 a.m. to veterans who received haircuts, a nutritious lunch, winter coats, shoes, sleeping bags, old military uniforms and personal items.

Many volunteers from the base were moved by the experience. They also agreed the Stand Down was a great way to let homeless veterans know they are not forgotten.

"I started organizing McConnell personnel to participate in this event five years ago," said Master Sgt. Brian Skillman, 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. "It really means a lot to take care of those who fought for our freedom."

The veterans showed their appreciation to the volunteers by recounting some of their war stories.

"I use to have a coat just like this until my buddy used it for target practice and it looked like a piece of cheese when he was done with it," said one veteran, who wished to remain anonymous. "It will come in handy. It's getting real cold around here lately."

The same veteran wouldn't take a liner for the coat because he knew there were others who needed it more.

"I was a squad leader and always had to think about my men. Guess nothing' s changed much since then," he said.

In 1998 a group of San Diego Vietnam veterans organized the first Stand Down, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since then, Stand Downs have been used as an effective tool in reaching out to homeless veterans -- reaching more than 200,000 veterans and their family members.

While McConnell volunteers reached out to a few hundred here, they wish they could do more.

"It is a humbling experience to see these defenders of our country here today. I am sick to think that after all they gave to this country that they find themselves living on the streets," said Tech. Sgt. Genevieve Morris, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs. "I am afforded opportunities because of their service. I feel just a little bit better knowing that something I did here today showed my appreciation."