For many veterans, leaving the service for civilian life is not an easy transition. In fact, for some, it’s rife with many of the same struggles they hoped to leave behind when they left the military.
But, on Thursday, a group of public agencies and local volunteers from across Kern County came together to host an event that seeks to make the transition to civilian life a little easier.
The event is known as “Stand Down.” The phrase “stand down,” is military lingo and means "to be at rest."
But, for many Kern veterans life is anything but restful. Instead it is too often filled with mental illness, trouble finding work, and homelessness.
Thursday’s 14th annual “Stand Down” event at Stramler Park gave veterans, some of whom are homeless, a chance to get crucial services.
Those services ranged from the simple, such as providing a meal or a haircut, to the complex, such as helping veterans find a job or giving them information on affordable housing options.
“You know, there are over 40 service providers and their focus and intent is to get as much information out to veterans as possible,” said Deborah Johnson, event chair.
Many veterans visited the Bakersfield Veterans Center tent in hopes of finding something that eludes many servicemen and women – peace of mind.
“It’s a big deal to have all the things that are provided here, but your mental health is also very important to your success in the jobs that you may have and the relationships you may have,” said Jenny Frank with the Veterans Center.
But, some veterans said the most important thing the event provides isn’t given away at a tent or food stand. Instead, it’s the camaraderie offered by a gathering of people who have been in your situation.
For one Army veteran, Theodore Grace, the most important resources available at the event were his fellow veterans.
“Just being around other veterans, you know, socializing with them, really helps out,” said Grace. “I lost my wife in 2010, and she was pregnant at the time. So it’s a little like re-establishing my life again, you know. And, I’ve been struggling with that.”
The concept of “Stand Down” originated 20 years ago in San Diego.
Today, these kinds of events are held in more than 200 cities across the country.