To "stand down" in combat is to take a recuperative break from the action. Events such as the North Coast Stand Down, held Oct. 3 through Oct. 5 at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, offer respite and help for veterans engaged in the battles of civilian life: coping with service-related trauma, homelessness, joblessness and more.
The first Stand Down was held in San Diego in 1988. Humboldt County held its first event in 2005. This year's was the 10th, and largest, of the local nonprofit events, with 234 volunteers, tens of thousands of dollars in donations and 45 service providers. Between Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 420 veterans — 35 of them homeless — and their families mingled with other veterans, ate meals, picked up clothes, got haircuts and massages, took showers, had their eyes checked and their teeth cleaned, underwent medical screenings, received spiritual counseling, and sought assistance with employment, housing, negotiating Veterans Administration benefits, and other needs. Their dogs were groomed and cared for. In the evenings, bands entertained them. About 55 people, including some kids, stayed overnight on cots, and on Sunday the homeless vets gathered donated gear — sleeping bags, cooking equipment, clothing — and headed back into the fray.
The Journal attended Friday's event to meet some of our community's veterans and ask them what they need. Here is what we found.