Stand Down . . . I had to ask the term to be defined to me the first time I heard it. It was my first deployment in Kosovo. After a few weeks of falling asleep to the sound of mortars under the stars at our firebase along the border, I was beginning to shed my naïveté about the world we live in. Our Platoon Sergeant asked the Commander for a “stand down” day so that we could refit, refuel and take care of administrative duties.
My initial acquaintance to the term “stand down” was under drastically different circumstances compared to my first Stand Down event here in Libby, MT. Stand Down is an annual event put on every year by the Northwest Montana Veterans Stand Down & Food Pantry. The event drew veterans from Montana, Idaho and points beyond to the Libby, MT local VFW Post 1548. They formed a line that stretched out the door, across the parking lot and down half of a block. The event featured its signature give away of semi-truck loads (yes, plural) of surplus military personal equipment (boots, uniform items, cold weather gear, sleeping bags, socks, undergarments, ruck sacks, etc.), free influenza shots, free hair cuts, dental exams, VA personnel of all kinds passing out information about services and points of contact and a hot meal—enough to feed, well, an army. The volunteer group was enormous, cheerful and very eager to be helping any way they could.
Mr. Allen W. Erickson is a veteran himself who unintentionally founded the effort back in 2000 after participating in other such events associated with the VA Hospital in Spokane, WA. The surplus from other Stand Down events was housed in a semi trailer in Allen Erickson’s yard, so he started calling other veterans and giving the items away locally in Kalispell. The funny thing about free-born Americans is that they are largely at heart very patriotic and manifestly benevolent to their beloved veterans. Through divine providence a farmer from Polson had heard of Allen Erickson’s effort to give away the surplus to veterans, so the farmer decided to drop off two 4’ cube pallets of potatoes with the instructions, “Now call the veterans, we will feed them and we will clothe them.” From there it was a short jump to doing Stand Down events locally, and in his first year of doing a Stand Down event, Allen Erickson had the largest such event in the nation. Twelve years later, the rest of the story is a history of not just annual events, but of an active year round food pantry, clothing outlet, an employment opportunities board, service center all housed in a large building plus robust connections with the VA.
“Veterans helping veterans” is not a cliché bumper sticker. A private organization that gives away 224,000 pounds of food in a year is obviously doing something right. Allen Erickson may not have set out to do something this large, but that is exactly what happened when he set out to do the right thing because he wondered who else would take care of these veterans.
My favorite president of all time spoke of something called, “American Exceptionalism.” Anyone lucky enough to be born an American is special, but a veteran is an unique brand of American—one who at one time wrote a blank check to his/her country up to and including his/her life if need be for this great nation. Efforts like the Northwest Montana Veterans Stand Down & Food Pantry are exceptional and 100% American.
I am proud to welcome home my cousin back to Ft Riley in the near future after he concludes a long tour in Iraq. There are things that only he and I will be able to talk about because of the extraordinary conditions and experiences that only someone deployed to Iraq to take care of their nation’s business can understand. Yet it does not take a combat veteran to understand what it was like for someone like me coming back from Iraq (after an honorable discharge) and not being able to find a job. Anyone can be a volunteer, make a difference in the life of a veteran and reach out a “helping hand up.”
North West Montana Veteran’s Stand Down & Food Pantry Mission Statement:
North West Montana Veteran’s Stand Down & Food Pantry is dedicated to providing a “helping hand up” to homeless, low income, and at-risk veterans, their families, and dependent children.
You may reach them at:
1349 Hwy 2 East Kalispell, MT 59901 (406) 756-7304
Pro Deo et Patria,