Stewart Bauer found himself disheartened by what he read in the newspaper and heard from friends: Another veteran died by suicide because they didn’t think they could get help and felt hopeless in their situation.
“I want people in the area to know that we will get them help one way or another so they don’t make an irreversible mistake,” Bauer said.
Bauer’s never-ending commitment to the community earned him recognition from the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a part of its #StillServing campaign, which honors veterans nationwide who continue their service after active duty. He said he was compelled to stay engaged in the community after his military service to help address this issue and other veteran needs.
Bauer, who was in the U.S. Navy from 1991 to 2013, on USS Kitty Hawk, USS Carl Vinson and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was an aviation support equipment technician deployed in combat zones twice during his career; in 1993, Bauer was a part of Operation Southern Watch toward the end of the Gulf War and was later stationed in Iraq from 2007 to mid-2008. He retired as a chief petty officer.
In March, Bauer settled in Vancouver after traveling coast to coast during and after his service. Joining Vancouver’s local VFW Post was like returning home; its members were like a family with whom he could laugh, joke and share sea stories.
As Post 7824’s service officer, adjutant of personnel matters and online administrator, Bauer serves as an intermediary for local veterans and national programs. This role involves helping people find affordable housing and health resources or simply lending a compassionate ear.
Caroline Smith, who served in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2005, found herself abusing alcohol in order to sleep because her anxiety and stress kept her awake. This led Smith to an addiction center in Vancouver where she received help, yet she was having trouble finding housing, she said.
In August, Smith scoured her resources to find a place that would accommodate her and her three kids, which is where Bauer played an integral role. Soon after her initial hunt, Bauer was able to connect Smith with appropriate resources through the Wounded Warrior Project and American Legion.
“I would be homeless and wouldn’t have gotten my son into school in time if it wasn’t for (Bauer’s) help,” Smith said. “He absolutely deserves this respect and recognition.”
For Art Kinzel, an 80-year-old retired pilot from the U.S. Air Force, he noticed his mobility slowly degrading in the past year. He whipped around his home in an electric wheelchair but risked hurting himself every time he entered or left the house.
“I’m at a point where I can’t crawl around on the floor anymore,” Kinzel said.
It only took one call to Post 7824 to resolve this, he said, as a group of people came by shortly after to assemble a ramp, one of them being Bauer. The workers assembled the metal pieces late into the evening despite the cold weather.
These vets are among the many people Bauer and others at Post 7824 assisted in the past year. However, its membership is decreasing because vets are dying of old age — some because of COVID-19.
There are an estimated 15,000 veterans in Vancouver and less than 700 have a membership with Post 7824, Bauer said. One of the many ways to help, he added, is to inform them on what’s available through the VFW.
Post 7824’s Cmdr. Jim McEnry said Bauer’s tenacity and proficiency has made noticeable improvements both within the organization, as well as outside of it.
“It’s good to have young blood,” McEnry said. “He’s more modern than we are, and we work well together.”
At the Portland Naval Operations Service Center, Bauer shares post-military benefits with sailors. He is also active in the Wreaths Across America and VFW’s Buddy Poppies programs, both of which celebrate and honor veterans across the country. Outside of Vancouver’s VFW Post, Bauer actively supports the Battle Ground School District’s JROTC units by educating them on job opportunities and scholarships.
“I can’t say it enough: we’re here to help vets,” Bauer said. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”