Saint Leo Helps Veterans at Stand Down in Pasco County

October 03, 2016

When warriors are exhausted physically and mentally on the battlefield, combat units have a “stand down”—a time to rest, get clean, change uniforms, enjoy a meal, and relax in safety. That concept was transferred to area communities to help homeless veterans and veterans in transition.

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Saint Leo University was one of the sponsors of One Community Now Stand Down for Pasco County veterans, which took place from September 29 to October 1 at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson, FL.

This is the fifth year for the Stand Down in Pasco. It is a grass-roots effort by One Community Now Inc., a 501c3 faith-based community organization with the goal of bringing the local churches, businesses, and organizations together to help meet the un-met and under-met needs within the Pasco community, according to its website.

Saint Leo University has a rich history of educating the military, and many staff and faculty members as well as students gave of their time and expertise at the event. Pamela Martis, director of the Office of Military Affairs and Services, conducted a sock drive and the university community responded by donating new socks that were distributed to the veterans at the Stand Down.

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Dr. William J. Lennox Jr., university president, and his wife, Anne, and Martis, filled plates and served steak dinners to the veterans in attendance on Friday evening, making sure everyone was well fed. Lennox is a retired three-star Army general and Martis is a retired Army colonel. Both are U.S. Military Academy at West Point alumni. Martis also provided information about the university and the many services available to military students, veterans, and their families.

In a separate tent, Saint Leo University social work students and faculty provided a “coffee house” atmosphere so veterans in transition could relax and talk. The veterans could stay all night, play games, or work puzzles.

“One of the many symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is insomnia,” said Karen Whitworth, instructor in Saint Leo’s Master of Social Work program. “They like to talk, and we’re here, and we keep the coffee going.”

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Whitworth said many of the veterans who returned to this year’s Stand Down were in a better place in their lives. “They come up and say, ‘I’m sober now,’ ‘I have a job now.’ It is wonderful,” she said. “And some of them come back as volunteers at the Stand Down.”

Saint Leo alumnus Brian Anderson met with many veterans at the event. Anderson and business partner Janel Norton founded Veterans Alternative in Holiday, FL, which offers many services not only to veterans, but their families, too. Veterans Alternative brought to the Stand Down many of those services, including guided yoga and the TRX Tactical Training Locker with equipment that many military personnel are familiar with, for physical training and relaxation.

State Rep. Danny Burgess and his wife, Courtney, served food and talked with the veterans at the Stand Down. Saint Leo alumnus Michael Ciminna, district director of U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ office, also helped.

Veterans who attended the One Community Now Stand Down were able to take showers, get haircuts, receive clothing, share meals, obtain career counseling and medical care, and receive referrals for housing and mental health counseling.

One veteran told Joe Battle, medical center director of the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Clinics in Tampa, about how his life has changed in the past year. Beaming, he said he has a job and a new life.

The U.S. Soldier’s Creed features a line: I will never leave a fallen comrade. And that is the philosophy of the Stand Down—the organizers and many volunteers do not let veterans down, but continue to help them.