Mini Stand Down scheduled in Los Lunas on Friday

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Local military veterans who would like to establish an annual Valencia County Stand Down are encouraged to attend the 2013 Stand Down event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, March 15, at the Los Lunas State Campus.

The Central Rio Grande Veterans Organization, Workforce Solutions-Vets and the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services have joined forces with federal, state, local and nonprofit organizations to assist homeless veterans during the event.

Submitted photo: Grace Sanchez presents Valencia County Stand Down Board President Charles Johnston with a $275 donation from the Pilot Club of Los Lunas to help support the veteran’s 2013 Stand Down Friday, March 15, at the Los Lunas Campus.

“We’re doing what’s called a mini Stand Down, which is informational,” said Linda Montano, First Choice Community Health Care patient eligibility coordinator. “There’s the whole blown Stand Down, which can be from one to three days. The reason we chose a mini Stand Down is because we are assessing our veteran population, and we would like next year to bring a full Stand Down.”

Stand Downs are national events, and traditionally in New Mexico there have been three Stand Downs — Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Montano said, but there were many in Farmington and Gallup.

“This is the first time in Valencia County,” she said.

The idea for the Valencia County Stand Down originated from Charles Johnston, a local U.S. Army veteran of Desert Storm and Desert Shield, who now presides as president of the Valencia County Stand Down Board.

Johnston attended Stand Downs around the state, but believed there were enough veterans in Valencia County to warrant an event here.

“This is my home, and I know I’m not the only vet here,” Johnston said. “I was like, OK, let’s have something here. Let’s stop having to depend on Albuquerque, let’s do something for our own county.”

If there are enough veterans interested, the goal is to establish an annual event and seek the grants and donations to fund it.

“Luckily, I have a lot of people from different walks of life who support this,” Johnston said.

The event is sponsored by a $1,000 donation from the Disabled American Veterans, and donations from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 14, the Valencia County’s Deputy Union, the Pilot Club of Los Lunas, the Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County, AFSCME Local 18, the American Legion and others.

The CRGVO explains the concept of Stand Down as a military term originating from times of war when exhausted combat troops were given the opportunity to return to a place of relative security to rest and recover. Stand Downs today have become common as a means to care for and advocate for homeless veterans.

Many veterans’ service organizations will have booths at the Los Lunas event, including the VA regional office, the Wounded Warrior Project, VA Medical Center, VA Workforce Solutions, New Mexico Department of Veteran’s Services, several different health care providers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, the Men’s Recovery Center, Starbucks, Donut King and many more.

The idea is to get information to veterans about all the various organizations, services and programs available to them.

“Nationwide, you’ll see a good majority of the vets coming back with lost limbs, lost arms, and a good percentage of them end up on the streets,” Johnston said. “I know vets who live totally in rural communities off the grid, off everything else, and won’t come in and talk to anyone. A lot are living very marginally, or what is called, ‘House bouncing or couch surfing.’

“When you’re in war it can mess up your brain a bit. Even if you don’t get some sort of injury, just the experience can sometimes mess you up a bit.”

Veterans return to communities so far removed from their combat experience, they feel alienated and isolated. They have seen things and experienced things that have changed their lives forever.

“The New Mexican Veteran’s Advocacy Council is going to donate some items, and may send a representative as well,” Johnston said.

This will be the first Stand Down in Valencia County, and the hope is that veterans from Isleta Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Socorro, and all the small towns in between will attend in numbers that will justify an annual event at the Los Lunas campus.

“The last three months, it almost makes me want to cry, the number of people who have helped and donated,” Johnston said. “All of this is on a shoestring budget, and we’re doing it ourselves. We have no outside funding sources.”

The event is open to the public to come and help support the troops. Hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks will be served.

To donate or volunteer, contact Linda Montano at 924-7915, or Charles Johnston at 222-0813.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.