Community steps up for veterans

Annual stand-down event brings together supplies, resources

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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As Danny Archila looked through boxes of supplies, the veteran filled his bag with things that will come in handy this winter.

He had boots and cold-weather clothing … and toddler clothes. Those were for Archila's 21-month-old son, Izeiah.

The organizers of Wednesday's "stand-down" know that some vets making the transition to civilian life can use help in different areas. The annual veterans' aid event included immediate assistance in the form of hot meals, haircuts, hygiene kits, sleeping bags and dental help.

It also provided a chance to connect with agencies offering long-term resources.

This year's event was organized by the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center and held at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, 15005 N.E. 65th St., just south of Fourth Plain Boulevard and Ward Road.

The veterans ranged from graybeards to people like the 28-year-old Archila, a single dad who served in Iraq and Kuwait.

The former Marine is classified as homeless, although he and Izeiah do have a roof over their heads. They are living in a Hillsboro, Ore., Salvation Army facility for homeless vets, with the help of Veterans Affairs funding.

Archila said he was deployed three times between 2002 and 2006. One of his tours took him to Fallujah, scene of the fiercest fighting of the Iraq War. Archila said he alternated as a driver and gunner in a quick-response force: "Kind of like the fire department," he said.

After returning home, Archila said he probably should have sought VA help in dealing with some issues, but "I didn't want to be labeled."

Still smiling

Dana Whalen found an unexpected reason to smile as he sorted through a box of hand-knit stocking caps.

"I just lost my grandmother," the Vancouver veteran said. But when he met Jean Combs, one of

the women who knitted the caps, he thought of his grandmother.

Of course, his smile did have a couple of gaps in it.

"I had two teeth pulled today," Whalen said. The teeth had been bothering him for about a year, he said.

"I don't know how these guys tolerate it," said Dr. Charles Dufort, one of the volunteer dentists working at the dental van provided by the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington. "This is a tough crowd."

Dufort's wardrobe for the day illustrated two different aspects of his assignment. He was wearing a dental smock, but he also was wearing military camo pants and GI boots.

"I'm retired Air Force," said Dufort, who was standing outside the van with fellow volunteer John Sundell as they waited for more patients.

Inside the reserve center's assembly hall, representatives of agencies and organizations -- governmental as well as nonprofit -- were available to discuss benefits and programs.

Emily Stoutsenberger, with Partners in Careers, said she'd already talked with six veterans by 1 p.m. In a typical office day, she said, "I feel good if I get a couple."

A lot of supplies were still available Wednesday, but the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center will continue to distribute them at its downtown office, 1305 Columbia St.

Joe Fettig, stand-down organizer, said even bulky items, such as a sleeping bag or cold-weather gear, can be requested and can be picked up within a day or so.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.