Santa Barbara County held its eighth Veterans Stand Down on Oct. 18, ahead of Veterans Day on Monday. The special event was a powerful reminder that those who serve and have served their country share a bond beyond the uniform.
Stand Downs are collaborative one- to three-day events run through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) across the country that aim to connect homeless veterans with their community and various service providers.
Volunteers and community partners spent time with veterans, who were able to access new clothing and towels, hygiene products and food, as well as services such as haircuts, flu shots, medical and dental, legal, mental and PTSD counseling, employment counseling and transportation, among many other things.
Staff Sgt. Robert Gross sat with a homeless veteran during the Santa Barbara Stand Down. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hanah Abercrombie)
Some 150 active-duty Air Force members from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in Santa Barbara, Calif., volunteered at the event. The uniformed airmen escorted vets during the event, helping them around and getting to know them, according to Senior Master Sgt. Curtis Brooks.
“It’s very emotional for them,” Brooks told Fox News this week, referring to the veterans. “There are some of them who have additional hardships in their life other than homelessness. For them to see us out there in uniform … it’s phenomenal.”
“While I’m genuinely interested to talk to them about their past and their careers, they want to hear more about mine,” he said.
While the service members help veterans around the event and carry their bags, one of the most important things they can do is spend time talking with the vets and listening to their stories, Brooks said.
Master Sgt. Travis Martho carried supplies for a veteran. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hanah Abercrombie)
“I feel fortunate to be able to wear this uniform and serve my country,” he added. “I’m genuinely interested in my predecessors and their contributions.”
Brooks has served in the military for 24 years. He’s the superintendent and senior enlisted leader for the 2nd Space Launch Squadron at Vandenberg, a unit that provides supports to launch rockets, specifically for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), he said.
This is Brooks’ third year volunteering for the Santa Barbara County Stand Down. His role is threefold: He rallies Air Force members to be a part of the event, organizes volunteers who assist in the warehouse that’s set up for veterans’ services, and coordinates volunteers to help prepare and serve lunch.
Vandenberg Air Force Base members served breakfast during the 2019 Santa Barbara County Veteran Stand Down event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hanah Abercrombie)
“They really depend on us, and we’re grateful to be able to provide that support,” he said.
Sandy Agalos, the event coordinator for the county, said they “couldn’t do it without VAFB.”
“VAFB volunteers assist with staging the event from beginning to end,” she told Fox News, including with the clothing drives and work crews leading up the big day.
During the Stand Down, each veteran is offered assistance from an airmen who helps him or her navigate throughout the day, she explained.
Airman 1st Class Jonathan Realegeno accompanied a veteran last month during the Stand Down. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hanah Abercrombie)
“The airmen help establish a supportive environment that promotes a sense of belonging, acceptance and camaraderie among the veterans,” Agalos said. “The VAFB volunteers help as much or as little as needed maneuvering with their veteran throughout the day, eating meals with them, keeping them on track or just visiting.”
“VAFB volunteers are the first ones there — and the last ones to leave,” she added.
When it comes to coordinating with the county in order to serve homeless veterans, Brooks said the base is happy to play its part.
“One of the biggest things I believe is we in the military should have a great report with our community partners,” he said, “and this is one of the easiest and best ways we can get out there to be seen and be a part of it.”
“Wearing the uniform is an obligation to promote a positive image,” Brooks added.