42..Operation Stand Down Nashville

Ok Wanderingvets and Friends:

Yes, I went and and saw it all. I was surprised, awed, amazed, horrified, and saddened by what I saw there. I met an old comrade in arms from my field artillery instructor days who was providing security at the event. He gave me some insights to the scope needed for securing a site for an OSD the magnitude of Nashville’s, too many hardworking volunteers, some not so hardworking ones, many agency heads like Mary Ann Smith, who heads the VA’s Women Veteran Program. One of the most incredible womens networks I have heard of.

Upon arriving at the event, I had myself inprocessed. I went through an entry point, was scanned by a metal detector courtesy of the TN State Guard. Next, I was directed into another tent where a drug dog sniffs you down and finding nothing you are directed into a second tent. In this tent they ask you the pertinent personal information. Name, address if you have one, Social Security Number, Branch of Service, Dates of Service etc. After this, they give out a bedding assignment (which I turned back in for another needy veteran). There was a veteran that was inprocessing with me that was completly intoxicated that someone just threw out there. They would not let him in. Personally I think he should have been attended to. Last I saw of him they had him propped up on a car outside the fence. Personally, I feel he needed an emergency detox because he kept saying something about the 2(intelligble) fighter wings.

I then went and met LTC. Burleigh and I realizing he was busy putting out numerous crises of the moment, I decided to have a general look around. I registered as a volunteer for the event as directed by Bill Burleigh. This gave me unfettered access to everywhere, which I found bizarre as you will see later. There were approximately 90 different agencies there. Some were there for charitable reasons while others were there for their own financial gain . I noticed some schools trying to get homeless veterans to apply for grants for courses they might not even attend. These men and women are sleeping under bridges and don’t even have shelter or an address.

I asked someone high up in OSD Nashville about successes or lack of successes and other OSD statistics. Their response was “We are just throwing out fishes here.” I have pondered this statement for days now. Fishes? Is this a cryptic remark to what? In talking to the majority of the homeless veterans at this stand down, I have seen that many of these men and women have regressed deeply. I also learned that after six months on the streets many of them become acclimated to the life of the streets. I met two homeless veterans one male and one female, who are there because they feel they are music writers. One supposedly sold a song twenty five years ago.

There were legal services there where many of the homeless veterans had petty misdemeanors dismissed by an actual county judge. There was a voters registration table that was somehow working to register homeless veterans to vote. There were representatives from the TN Dept of Labor with employers willing to hire Homeless Vets. The jobs were paying $6.50 to $8.50 an hour and one vet scoffed at it saying “I cannot get a home with that!” Personally,I found it incomprehensible , from someone that just told me he is sleeping under a bridge and gets $85.00 in food stamps. On the other hand, when I asked the DOL about the lack of Veterans Preferance since the Welfare to Work Bill tax credits he remarked “The Veterans took a hit there with employers like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart and all other larger employers. Its a situation we have been looking into.” In other words, since President Clinton signed that bill into law no one has done anything about it. I also spoke with John Keys, the Tennessee Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, who said “We should be doing a better job for our veterans” to a resounding round of applause from the crowd including Congressman Jim Cooper who was in attendance . When I asked John Keys about his comment he had no explanation . I asked him if he thought that, what he was doing about that.? Channel 4 from Nashville had cameras there but no on air talent to interview any of the “faces” so this was just a human interest event. I ruined a few camera shots for some of the bigwigs there with my notebook and stupid travelling hat getting quotes, asking questions, getting no cognizant answers. I mention a statistic, you should see these guys eyes glaze over. These gents do not know anything. You ask a serious question, you get knocked to the curb by one of their posse. Mr. Keys has three of them with titles like Budget Director, Finance Director, etc. ready to interrogate who you are.

The TN State Guard provided security for the event. They provided a diligent, yet compassionate service. Most of these gentleman and ladies are prior service veterans. They are strictly voluntary, unpaid and highly professional. Their dedication to service to this event is critical to the success of this mission. Everyone one of them I met, it was a pleasure and an honor to meet. I enjoyed their company and swapping stories with them.

Food was prepared by the TN National Guards HHT 1-230 ACS supplied Mobile Field Kitchen. It was a lot of food cooked out of that little field trailer! It was good and the vets were lined up for thirds but the homeless veterans were coming in like tidal waves. OSD was having to open the gates late and close them early to prevent running out of supplies. Personally I ate one meal on day two, because I was hungry but felt guilty.

Volunteers: There were many good hearted volunteers helping in the kitchens, with aid agencies etc. It takes many volunteers. There were some volunteers there that did not fit in. I noticed “volunteers” that were kissing some of the homeless veterans good bye! I wonder if these “volunteers” were bringing drugs and alcohol into the lockdown site.

From my overwatch position the whole thing was surreal at night. The homeless veterans are locked down in a fenced in football field with the lights on. My first thought was that it was like the movie “Red Dawn” without the cuban voices in accented english doing propaganda speeches. Some of the veterans were wandering around and by 11pm were in for the night.

I left Saturday noon heading back west. I still have more stories to write about this day …some good and some bad. This is just a brief synopsis of what I have seen and experienced in a day and a half in Nashville.

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