Tucson Homeless Veterans StandDown-2014

Feb. 28th to March 2nd, was the time of our Tucson Homeless Veteran StandDown, for the winter of 2014.  A great number of community groups and government agencies meet monthly, throughout the year, to prepare the many non-profits, Veterans’ groups and organizations for this one weekend.  Tucson Veterans Serving Veterans is our local network of federal, state, and local government and private agencies that help Veterans with finding jobs, and achieving self-sufficiency.

This year, StandDown took place at the Days Inn, by the convention center, and was an opportunity for our Tucson area homeless Veterans to come inside, have a bed for the weekend, the opportunity for some good meals, and many resources.  That weekend was one of the nastiest in a while, so it was good timing.

StandDown is a military term, and refers to a brief period of time for a soldier to leave an active combat area, to rest and regain strength before returning to battle.

I have some figures from Bob Phillips, who served this year as the StandDown Volunteer Co-Chair.  Bob is also an integral part of the Mindful Veterans Project, and a very active member of the Oro Valley American Legion Post 132.  “There were 174 Veterans who registered for services (some pass through without registering).

164 males, and 10 female veterans, 20 of which registered as “family units”, meaning that the veteran has one or more non-veteran dependents. Of these, 75 were unsheltered, and 99 are in transitional or other housing. As of close of business Friday, 3/7, 29 of the 75 previously unsheltered veterans were in some sort of housing. We generally use a 4 month follow-up, so expect that number to rise considerably.”

The weekend began with check in and registration at the VA on Friday morning.

Bob indicates, “The vast majority of homeless veterans in attendance are “VA eligible,” which essentially means they possess an Honorable, or General Under Honorable Conditions, discharge, and meet certain length of service requirements.  StandDown is . . . administered with community partners like TVSV, whose principal purpose is to get homeless veterans into VA services, including health care.  To that end they register at the VA, and those eligible receive preliminary screening before they are even transported to the hotel.  For those not eligible for VA services we had the UofA Mobile Health Program bus which did basic health care screenings out in the parking lot as well as the SoAZ Aids Foundation (SAAF) which did HIV screenings, a Pima Community College respiratory therapist, and a Pima Medical Institute student (himself a former homeless veteran) providing blood pressure screening.”

Lunch was meat stew, with bread, salad, nachos, and desserts.  There were all kinds of juices, teas, coffee, pop, and water on ice available throughout the weekend.  The afternoon was taken up with settling in, showering, shaving, getting haircuts, some getting ID cards, receiving hygiene kits, talking, going to the “stores”, set up to distribute gently worn clothing, boots & shoes, and new underwear and socks.

A spaghetti dinner was served Friday evening, donated and prepared by Nancy and Phil Jacobs (Nancy is a member of our Oro Valley American Legion Auxiliary Unit 132), after which there was a chair yoga demonstration by the Mindful Veterans Project, part of the Purple Mountain Institute here in Tucson.

Our local American Legion Auxiliary Unit 132 takes on the task of running the clothing stores during the event.  Anyone who wants to take on a greater role in helping at these type of events can stay informed by checking the calendar I keep on our OVVSI website:  www.orovalleyvsi.org/calendar.php.  You can also access information about ongoing and upcoming events relating to Veterans by going to the Aux. Unit 132’s website: ovunit132.webs.com.  And, email me, anytime:  vsi.ovaz@gmail.com.

This year, as last, Oro Valley citizens were generous in their contributions of clothing for our Veterans.  A number of our local people helped with the sorting of items, at the staging area at the Armory, before the StandDown.  Others did a great job of getting the clothing areas set up.  There was a large mens’ section, which you can see across the hall from where the women’s area was housed.  That larger room is also where some books were available, donated by the Friends of Oro Valley Public Library.

There is no charge for the items distributed.  Initially, we limit the quantities that can be taken, so everyone attending has a shot at getting some of the best choices. Each person chooses one pair of jeans, one shirt, one sweater, or jacket, a three pack of new undies, a few pairs of new socks, and a pair of shoes or boots.   Later in the weekend, the rooms are opened up to any participant who wants to come back with a big bag, or pack, and load up with other things they want or need.   Whatever remains after that, is boxed and given to agencies which distribute the clothing to people/families in need.  Nothing is wasted, and it ALL goes to people who have great need.

The very best of the clothing contributed is put in a room for Veterans who are at the point of wanting to have nice things to be used when interviewing for jobs.  The same care is given to those items, and left overs are passed on to an agency in Tucson which provides interview clothing to the general population who are ready for that transition.

All the Veterans(male and female), and their family members, who were present during the weekend had the opportunity to choose clothing.  Onita Davis, President of our Oro Valley American Legion Auxiliary Unit 132, took(with other volunteers) 22 women Veterans or spouses of Veterans shopping at one of the malls, for bras, and some maternity clothing for a few of the women who are expecting.  It was a wild and cheerful excursion, according to Onita, and the women had a good time, both the participants, and the volunteers who accompanied them.

Saturday was filled with more good meals, culminating in a Texas Road House donated BBQ dinner.  There was an opening ceremony in the morning, the clothing store was open all day, and the resource fair went on all day.  Also, throughout the day, Dr. Teri Davis, offered Mindfulness meditation participatory demonstrations in a room set aside for that purpose.

There was also a Veterans’ Court set up,  and somewhere around 29 cases were resolved by Judge Pollard’s Court.

Late in the afternoon, there was music provided by Angel Perez, and some of the volunteers got into the act during one song, from the antics I saw in a video that was shot!  After dinner, Abel Moreno of La Frontera Behavioral Health’s Rally Point Arizona offered peer counseling for any who were interested.

Sunday morning, there was breakfast, and the Veterans checked out.

Bob Phillips indicated that “Samantha Bivens (SoAZ Chapter of the American Red Cross) put together a fabulous animal care program. Participants included Pima Animal Care Center, Dog About Town mobile grooming, the Hermitage Cat Shelter, and Valley Animal Hospital. Twenty-six dogs and three cats were seen, and twenty of the dogs were vaccinated and licensed. I don’t have numbers on how many were microchipped. Best of all, perhaps, arrangements have been made to have spay/neuter vouchers for future events.”  In addition, “Adrienne Angeli, from AZDES (Arizona Department of Economic Security) was the event’s Provider Coordinator, and rounded up 57 providers, who answered questions Saturday, and provided information in many areas: housing, behavioral health, spiritual needs, addiction assistance, legal services, and on and on.”

VA staff were present from pertinent areas of the VA.  Some of the many non-profits present were:  Tucson Veterans Serving Veterans, the Mindful Veterans Project, Rally Point Tucson, Tucson Vet Center, Oro Valley American Legion Post 132 and their Auxiliary Unit 132, VFW and their Aux. Units, other Am. Leg. Posts and Aux. Units from all over the Tucson area.  Combat Veterans Motorcycle Assoc. had close to thirty volunteers present, as did Team RWB Tucson.  Many Veterans, some who have been homeless themselves, came to lend a hand. There was a contingent of young military men and women, from Davis Monthan AFB, and they did a wonderful job on Sunday morning, packing and cleaning up the whole facility, along with other volunteers.  All told, there were over 200 volunteers who contributed their time and energy to this weekend.  Many worked two or more whole days and evenings.

It was an extraordinary event.  Clifford Wade, who is one of the main people responsible for the whole weekend, said in a FB note, “I have been running numbers for StandDown all day. The most exciting number is that 33% of those that declared that they are homeless have been or soon will be in housing. Our team needs to be highly commended for this fantastic number!!!!!”

Here is a link to the on-line story of just one formerly homeless Veteran: radio.azpm.org/p/azspot/2013/8/2/25874-veterans-make-up-16-of-homeless-adults-us-officials-say/.  I was told that Gus walked overnight shift security in the cold and rain at the StandDown, as a volunteer.

Funding for the StandDown comes from many sources.  Among them, private donations, Homeless Veterans Program funds from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs(VA), donations from organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans(DAV), tAmerican Legion Post and Auxiliaries, and many other groups.

With gratitude and hopefulness,

Sandra Briney

for the

Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative






Mindfulness in a Round Pen by Teri Davis, ND


David was anxious, nervous, afraid of being hurt. He was busy looking for danger, pacing, exhibiting behavior that might be expected from any animal of prey in an unfamiliar environment. Johnny moved quietly and deliberately, as if to try to calm him by his peaceful presence.


David is an OIF veteran, a combat engineer near Fallujah. He served 23 years in the Army, 5 years with the Army National Guard.

Johnny is a quarter horse who was rescued last spring by Escalante Springs Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation on the southeastern edge of Tucson. He and his horse pal, Brownie, were living in a small pen next to the Old Nogales Hwy. They were neglected and starving to death. Finally a passing motorist called Animal Control.
In the above photo Brownie is in the background on the left and Johnny is in the foreground. Bob is holding the rope and David is pacing. At ease, Johnny has one ear on Bob and one ear on David, paying attention to both of them, ever mindful of his environment as any prey animal must be in order to stay alive.
This photo and several that follow were taken last weekend during a class taught by Johnny, with assistance from Bob and me. Through the Mindful Veterans Project, several programs are offered to veterans for free, and this is one of them. On this particular day, we took 5 vets to the ranch to meet some of the rescued horses and do a little ground work with Johnny. The program is very unassuming, we provide some basic safety instructions then ask participants to perform simple tasks with the horses that require a certain amount of mutual trust and respect.
David was enthusiastic about participating this day, even though he had never had any real experience with horses, and he mentioned several times his fear of being bit. When we first arrived and were just hanging out by the pen where Johnny and Brownie were, David mentioned to me that he thought the horses looked nervous . . . anxious . . . scared. (I find that in moments like this, when we are first observing the animals and I ask participants to tell me what they think is going on with the horses, the people will often tell me what is going on within themselves. If they are scared, they tell me the horses look scared, etc.)
After introducing the men to Johnny and Brownie and providing some general information about how to behave around horses, Johnny and the rest of us moved into another pen. And with a little help from his friend, David put a halter on Johnny and walked around with him. When David walked, Johnny walked; when David turned, Johnny turned; when David stopped, Johnny stopped. And I watched David’s grip on the rope loosen, I watched his posture let go just a little, his stride became shorter and softer, his head bowed slightly and his gaze remained on the horse and the task at hand. He appeared to mirror some of Johnny’s comfortable gait and posture as well as his presence of mind.
After just this, he told Bob, “I feel calm and safe.”
David, TD, JB
JB, David 1
JB, David 2
JB, David 4

Bob and I have had conversations about PTSD – his, mine, and others’ – and we have talked about the word “safe”. In another program, I teach mindfulness meditation skills to veterans in an eight-week class (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR) and would sometimes use the word “safe” during one specific guided meditation offered in the sixth or seventh week. Bob told me that although he might feel more or less safe, moment by moment, he never felt completely safe. And not wanting to invite people to open to or explore a mind state that is unfamiliar or threatening to begin with, I now use the word “safer” during that meditation.

David said he felt calm and safe.
In half an hour, Johnny helped him move into a state of mind that I don’t even point to until we are at least six weeks into my class. David not only felt calm and safe, he had the presence of mind – literally, his mind was in this moment – and the focused awareness to even notice his feelings in the first place and then put words to them.
The MBSR class is manualized and evidence-based. It is the Gold Standard for teaching mindfulness awareness practices. And with advancements in techniques to study brains at rest and brains at work, research shows that this eight-week class will lead to structural and functional changes in the brains of those participants who fully engage in the daily home practice (of about half an hour.) Those brain changes can contribute to greater concentration, focus, and equanimity or balance of mind. And those brain changes can dial down the habitual stress reactivity that so many people with histories of trauma are left with. It’s like using the mind to change the brain to change the mind.
This is not a diary about the brain science of mindfulness, though. Or the brain science of connecting with a kind horse on a beautiful day while surrounded by friendly people and wide open spaces. (Well, maybe it is just a little.)
It’s about that moment when David felt calm and safe. He felt that, he noticed it, he let it sink into his mind and body. Our brains change moment by moment in response to what we are paying attention to, this is experience-dependent neuroplasticity. And when we slow down and really notice pleasant states of mind, when we take a few seconds to let the experience sink in, we leave a trace on the brain. And if we do that again and again, the trace becomes a track as the neurons that are firing together become wired together. (To paraphrase Dr. Donald Hebb.) And it becomes easier and easier for us to find our way back.
Johnny didn’t create that inner calm and safety, but he sure did help to reveal it. I’ve read many beautiful diaries over the past couple of weeks that spoke of the interconnection of all things. And in that moment, I think David felt that interconnection, brushed up against it.
He paid attention intentionally, he showed up for his life in that precise instant of unfolding, and he caught a glimpse of himself in a moment of peace.
© 2013 the Mindful Veterans Project
PS.  The Mindful Veterans Project is part of the Purple Mountain Institute.
The Mindful Veterans Project page is on the website for Purple Mountain Institute.

Our “First Saturday” February table at the New Heirloom Farmers’ Market in Oro Valley

We had another good First Saturday, at the Heirloom Farmers Markets‘ Oro Valley Farmers’ Market, at Steam Pump Ranch in Oro Valley. The morning started out with rain, but we set up anyway, and by the time we got the table covered with materials and handouts, the sun had come out, and we stayed busy the whole morning with people stopping by to talk and ask questions. Every time we go, it is different, but has never been boring or quiet. Oro Valley American Legion Post 132 Post Commander, Ed Davis, and his wife, Onita, who is the President of our American Legion Auxiliary Unit 132 in Oro Valley, were both there with me. Honestly, it was the smartest move our little committee made, when we decided to spend one Saturday a month, just being there.

Every conceivable kind of thing comes up, from people wanting a specific answer to an ongoing problem they are having, to people simply needing/wanting to talk about their time of service, to people looking for ways to help out, to people trying to give us money!

We don’t take donations, as none of us on the committee want to deal with all the tax forms that we would have to start filing!  So, we steer people to organizations, like the American Legion Post 132 and their Auxiliary Unit, where ALL donated money goes back to the needs of Veterans. These two groups can do that because the Post made the decision not to build a place to meet…or a bar to hang out in. Instead, their money goes right back to the Veterans’ needs in our region.  Pretty remarkable.

Every single time we are there, something always moves me to tears….in a good way. People are remarkable in their resilience, their desire to do their best, to heal completely from whatever ails them, and to give back. It is a very humbling experience to be part of that with them.

Tucson VA’s 7th Annual Veterans Day Celebration

I went with Alice Bever from the American Legion Auxiliary Oro Valley Unit 132.  We set our table up at Southern Arizona VA Health Care System(the VA campus here in Tucson), sharing it with Oro Valley American Legion Post 132, and their Aux Unit 132.  It was a perfect day.  Tony Plattner, the Adjutant from the American Legion Oro Valley Post 132 joined us for a few hours, during the day.  Lots of folks came by, talked with us, picked up info we laid out, and the Veterans among them received a thankyou card, signed by Gold Star Mother, Carol Brown.  She picks the cards each year, and spends the time to sign each one with the Aux. Unit’s name.  Everyone who stopped by was given a commemorative pin from the Wreaths Across America Program. For further info on that program, check out their site on line:


The wreaths bought with funds raised this year, will be placed on many graves of Veterans here in Tucson, and elsewhere, on National Wreaths Across America Day, Saturday, December 14, 2013.  Check with your town’s American Legion for your local time when they will start placing them.  The wreaths are placed, starting at the same moment, all over the country.  Many people took information about the program, in addition to being given the pins.  We had a Boy Scout Troop from way over on the east side ask how they could be involved.  They want to help lay the wreaths!

I put out two of the books Ironwood Ridge High School students produced for the Veterans Heritage Project, and other projects and programs of interest which focus on the needs and interests of Veterans, their families, and those who wish to volunteer to work in the area of Veterans’ concerns.  And, we put out a bowl of candy.  Just want you to know…the most popular things in the bowl were the Tootsie-pops, by far!  Many of the veterans took my email address to contact me if they decide that they would like to be interviewed.

When we arrived, one of the wonderful folks from the OEF/OIF/OND Transition Team was there to greet us.  Mike Ramsey is a jewel.  I always love seeing any of them, and getting to talk with them.  They have been so helpful to me, as I have progressed in my understanding of how to be a useful resource to Veterans.  Each person in that group brings a very special dedication to their job.  I admire them, tremendously, and rely on them heavily.

As the day progressed, many things happened at our little table, and there had to be at least 50 tables of organizations dedicated to veterans needs and interests, whose tables were probably just as busy as we were.  I know we handed out nearly every scrap of paper that we had with us, relating to several programs in town, and regarding the Post and Aux, and our own Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative.  I ran out of business cards, and printed sheets about OVVSI, just about the time we packed it in.  Perfect timing!

A woman Veteran was the keynote speaker: Army Sergeant Mary Herrera of the 855th Military Police Company of the Arizona National Guard.  She was severely wounded November 8, 2003 while on a mission in Iraq.  There is much I could write about her, but will insert a site you can go to and read about her, if you would like to know more.  She has been the driving force behind a bill in Arizona, that will authorize tuition waiver scholarships to National Guardsmen and women who receive a Purple Heart or were medically discharged due to injuries while serving in the military after Sept. 11, 2001.  THAT is a huge deal…ask any National Guardswoman or man.  To learn more about Mary, go to:


During the day, I collected more information and contacts to use in the future, for the work that we do with the Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative.  A woman who works for the DoD in the area of Jobs for Veterans spent quite a long time with me, and another woman who is with the Veterans Home talked with us, too.  And, of course our Transition Team people are always a the top of my “to see” list.  Adrienne Weede, the manager for the team has always been incredibly gracious, considerate, and welcoming to me, and appreciates what we are attempting in Oro Valley.  She has always displayed real interest in our work here, and has been instrumental in my learning process of how our group can become a useful resource for our Veterans.

And of course, the Veterans who came by to chat, share information, and their experiences, were the highlight and my delight of the day. …And there were more who came down from Oro Valley than you might have imagined.  It was just a terrific day.

We now have an invitation for a tour of the Veterans Home on the VA grounds, from one of the Veterans who lives there.  He loves it, and feels very much at home there….a pretty wonderful endorsement.  I bet a few of us will take him up on it one of these days.

We had a woman come by, who is very active in her home Aux. Unit in Puerto Rico.  She is here because her husband is starting a long medical treatment at the VA, and she is living here in OV with her daughter’s family, for the next six months or so.  So, she will be a guest at the next Aux. meeting in Oro Valley.  She was very happy to find us, and the feeling was mutual.

There is more to tell, but that will be another blog.  Time to rest, and gather my thoughts for the next segment.  We had a singular day.  I enjoyed Tony and Alice…they are both kind AND competent!


Veterans Day Ceremony at Ironwood Ridge High School, Oro Valley, AZ

Friday I represented the Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative at a special assembly at Ironwood Ridge High School here in OV.  It was held to honor the Veterans who are part of the school staff, and some of the local Veterans who are being included in this year’s “Since You Asked” book documenting the service of Veterans across all periods of service, beginning with World War II, and the program behind those books, the Veterans Heritage Project.


It was a lovely ceremony; each of the Veterans were honored by a student reading a bit about their time of service.  The oldest one represented was a 90 year old woman Veteran, who served as an Air Force mechanic.  She was quite wonderful, as were they all.  There was not a dry eye in the place, as their stories were told, and each received a standing ovation from the hundreds of students and townsfolk who were in attendance.

The Veterans Heritage Project, which documents the time of service of our Veterans, is a great endeavor on a number of levels:

1. It changes the lives of the students who do the interviews.  They are energized and    humbled by the stories they hear.  Often, they connect keenly with the effects of past events, for the first time in their young lives.

2. It’s important to document the first-hand accounts of Veterans, both those who served during the midst of conflicts, and those who have served in other ways.  There is no part of history not critical to preserve; each story has value, obvious or subtle.

3. The Veterans themselves are deeply moved to have someone want to hear of their experiences.  Some stories are told, unvarnished, and terrible in their truths.  Others, are told with a sweet wistfulness, but always with dignified humility and, sometimes, great humor.

4. For those of us who then read these stories, it is our responsibility, and an honor, to consider the lives of these people, who have given years of their lives to an ideal greater than themselves, whether by choice or by draft, with dignity and sense of duty.

These are only a few of the many ways this project impacts the students, Veterans, and our broader community.  Barbara Hatch, up in Carefree, AZ, brought the Veterans Heritage Project to Arizona, and is inspiring, as she has made this program grow each year, in Arizona.  It is a nation-wide program, and the books produced, and the videos made of the interviews, are all part of the permanent collection at the Library of Congress, where they are archived.

Don Dickinson, the teacher/advisor of this group at Ironwood Ridge, has done a masterful job of focusing our attention, as a town, on our Veteran population, and the gifts given to us; portions of these Veterans’ lives.  Well done, Don, students, and these treasures, our Veterans.

Mental Health Summit at Tucson VA

Today I was lucky enough to attend a Mental Health Summit at the VA here in Tucson, at the invitation of Adrienne Weede, who is the Program Manager for the OEF/OIF/OND Transition Program Team.  It was a remarkable bringing together of both the VA mental health staff, community groups (state, county, and non-profits), all talking about the situation for Veterans within the VA and the community at large, including Oro Valley, Green Valley, Sierra Vista, and Marana.

There were people there from all kinds of agencies, having to do with mental health, housing, jobs, and on and on. It was a remarkable event. We broke up into smaller groups to discuss particular areas of interest to Veterans, and I stuck with the one that dealt with what the VA offers in the way of mental health programs, both inpatient and out, and all the mental health programs that are in the communities that both feed the VA, veterans who are in need, and those  agencies to whom the VA sends folks who may not be eligible for participation in the VA system, and those programs that work in tandem/side-by-side, or interactively, with the VA, and are within the Tucson area.

It was very cool. I was invited because of my work with the Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative, and I got many questions answered that I have had come to me from Veterans who approach our table at the Farmers’ Market. I also made a bunch of great contacts, both within the VA, and with the remarkable non-profits that are operating here in Tucson, for the benefit of Veterans.

I think this will be just the first of many, for this sort of event. It was the first of it’s kind here in Tucson, which focused on the staff and involved workers of the VA and organizations, instead of on the Veterans themselves, although, the discussions, of course, were concerning how to better address the needs of Veterans. We may start a group that meets regularly to talk about different issues, and changes that occur in programs and new ideas that could become VA or community programs to address things that have fallen through the cracks, or have simply not been addressed by what is in place. It was enlightening for all parties.  I think it is going to mean that we do a better job of not duplicating services, and will be better able to know what is offered by whom, and how to connect our Veterans with a person within each agency, instead of sending them off with only an introductory phone number that will not be a personal contact.

I feel fortunate to have been able to take part in this event.  I think it is an event that will happen again, and will be a very useful tool for the whole Tucson area.

NAM POW’s Reunion

by Anne Walker, a member of the Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative
They said when they heard the B-52’s fly over head, they knew they were going home.  They had spent years in squalid captivity, but they never gave up and never gave in.  Navy Commander Everett Alvarez, the first pilot to be shot down, was the longest held POW.  He spent eight and a half gruesome years at the “Hanoi Hilton,” where he was tortured and beaten.  Today Everett is a member of the Board of Director’s at the Richard Nixon Foundation.  My husband, Ron Walker is Chairman of the Foundation, and the two long time friends collaborated on the 40th Anniversary Reunion held on the 23 and 24th of May, 2013.

As a special assistant to President Nixon, in charge of presidential travel, Ron was at the bottom of the ramp when the Vietnam POW’s came home.  That’s when Ron and Everett met.

President Nixon wanted to celebrate their homecoming and he hosted a gala dinner for 1300 guests on the White House lawn.  It is still the largest White House dinner ever held.  Irving Berlin led the singing of his song, “God Bless America,”  Bob Hope was MC and Sammy Davis, Jr. performed.  Everett got to sit next to John Wayne.

Forty years later the reunion took place at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace.  The POW’s and their families arrived in eight buses and were moved to see the crowds that lined the streets in Yorba Linda, waving flags and saluting.  The California Highway Patrol provided an escort and so did fire trucks, police cars, and 100 Patriot Guard riders on motorcycles.  The POW’s toured a new exhibit that tells their story and then attended a solemn ceremony featuring military salutes, four fly-overs by MIG jets and War Bird CJ 6s.  The grand finale was Robbie Britt singing the National Anthem, TAPS, and a 21 gun salute.

Patriot Guard Riders Salute the Arriving POW’s

A happy moment came when Tony Orlando sang, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” and the crowd sang every single word along with him.  The young musicians in the 1st Marine Division Band from Camp Pendleton watched in amazement as the entire “older” audience sang along to a song they’d probably never heard before, but began clapping in time and in appreciation.  The song had become a symbol of the joyous hostage homecoming, and the Gold Record it earned will become part of the Nixon Museum exhibit.

40th Anniversary Dinner at the Nixon Library

Tricia Nixon Cox, the president’s older daughter, talked about the dinner at the White House, and how much it meant to her father.   Ross Perot spoke too.  The POW’s love him.  He worked for years and spent a lot of money in repeated attempts to set them free.

While I can’t begin to imagine the bonding those men must feel for each other, it was emotional and heart warming to be in their midst.  At the original dinner, a choir of the POW’s sang a song they had written in prison, on toilet paper, to the tune of the Navy Hymn. They had to keep it hidden from the Viet Cong. Forty years later, we watched a black and white movie of their White House performance, and then the same men from that chorus got up and sang it again, in person.  What a moment!

They have had other reunions over the years, but many expressed the opinion that this one was probably their last.  Some are wheel chair bound and many walk with difficulty.  They were proud to say they always include a place at the table for President Nixon.  Retired U.S. Marine Capt. Orson Swindle, who spent six years as a prisoner, said, “He was a hero to us.  He will always be revered by us as a group because he got us home.”

I am proud to say that here in Oro Valley, Arizona, we have a wonderful Veteran’s Initiative, chaired by Sandy Briney, wife of our Pastor, Jim.  Along with their volunteers, they work hard to provide assistance to veterans, and their web site is full of good information and updated frequently.  It would be nice if every town in America had something similar to offer our very deserving veterans.

Memorial Day Poppies

I spent several hours this Friday before Memorial Day of 2013, doing something I thought I would never do in my lifetime. I spent the morning asking people if they would like to wear a poppy.  I don’t know why I always assumed it would never be me, handling those poppies.  It was simply outside my ken.

It was a lovely morning.  Many veterans identified themselves as such, and other folks were nostalgic about the tradition of giving people poppies during this time of remembrance.

Somewhere inside ourselves, I hope all humans wish fervently for war to be a thing of the far distant past, everywhere on this earth.  At present, it is well to remember how many men and women have died in them, and in selfless service.

Handling those small red bits of crepe paper held several levels of meaning for me.

The remembrance of lives spent early, for cruel purpose or for noble cause, made me sad.  We can argue whether any war serves the nobility of man, but surely, people must stand when horror stalks the defenseless.  Choosing the time for that, is a hard task.  I am no seer, able discern that which others find confounding, and turn toward or away from.

Who made these simple flowers?  Veterans here in Arizona, twisted them into being, in remembrance of their fallen brothers and sisters.  Some of those folks are living in Veterans’ Homes across our state.  Touching each poppy, was a poignant reminder of how long a life may go on, and how tenuously, as years advance.

These little symbols were made to remember fallen comrades, but also to equip others to elicit donations, ALL of which are spent to assuage the needs of our Veterans here in Arizona.

All the money donated during these few days is used thoughtfully, and wisely:

  • Some of it may go to help with a car repair to ensure a Veteran has the ability to get to work at the first job he/she has had since coming home from multiple deployments.
  • Some of it may be used to help pay a portion of a mortgage for a service woman or man who has come home from afar, to no work, and is having a hard time keeping their home.
  • Some of it might help a Veteran buy the clothes needed to go on a much anticipated job interview.
  • Some could help a family whose soldier/provider is deployed, if they have run into an expense that is unexpected and overwhelming, like a leaky roof, or damage from a storm.
  • There are as many ways that it will be used as there are difficulties to address.  It is not spent foolishly, nor easily, and none can know what emergency or tribulation it will help to bridge for a Veteran.

Go find someone offering poppies in your town or neighborhood, and stick some money in their donation jar. Wear that poppy this weekend, to remind others of what this weekend is about.

Whether you want all violence and all war to stop, or would cheerfully engage any and all who need a sharp rap on the snout, and more, this weekend is about those who went to early death, and who might have had long lives, as we have now.

You can give donations to the American Legion Auxiliary, Oro Valley Unit 132, or to Oro Valley American Legion Post 132, at any time of the year, and they will always be used for the good of Veterans here in Arizona.  The information regarding that, and a form to fill out, is on the Auxiliary Post site: ovunit132.webs.com/taxdeductibledonations.htm

The Oro Valley Auxiliary Unit 132’s site is listed on our page for Family and Friends.  Go to that site and click on the “TAX DEDUCTABLE DONATIONS” section that is in white lettering on a blue background, near the top of the home page.  You can print and download a printable donation form there.

You can also find the Poppy Story on their site.  Share it with your children and grandchildren, so they can understand and continue this tradition into our future.

The Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative Table: another First Saturday at the Oro Valley Farmers’ Market

Today, the weather in Oro Valley was beautiful, and we had a number of people stop by, introduce themselves, and request or take information. One of the young people who is involved in the Veterans Heritage Project here at Ironwood High School, stopped by and passed some time with us. She is a wonderful young woman, who has spent a good deal of her free time these past two years, interviewing Veterans for the Heritage Project. You can find out more about the project by going to:


You may need to enter that in your browser, by hand, as I don’t think I can set it up on this blog, as a link. Maybe I will get better at that, but for now, I make do. Here is a brief excerpt from the site’s home page. It explains a little bit about the project:

Connecting Students with Veterans
We are a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to connecting students with veterans in order to record and preserve the stories of their service to our nation in the US Library of Congress for future generations. The program though is more than a history preservation project. VHP offers students an opportunity to learn history from primary sources and skills in communication, writing, technology and project management. It enables them to achieve a new sense of purpose, whether in their daily school activities, pursuit of higher education and choices in careers.

The young people in our community, who are doing the interviewing, are high school students. And, they are very dedicated to documenting as many stories of our local Veterans, as they are able. If you are a Veteran, or know of one who might like to be interviewed, please email me at:


I will pass your email on to the group of young people who are doing this work. They are fantastic.

One of my fellow Initiative partners and I spent the better part of the morning talking about leadership, and how to support leadership among of men and women who are focusing on Veterans’ issues, and how to find and support the development of new leadership in this area. We are at the beginning of the work that needs to be done in this area. I look forward to more brainstorming and getting some concrete ideas of how to proceed in that endeavor. Burnout is a serious consideration. Anyone have any great ideas about nurturing new leadership, and keeping the ongoing leadership fresh and willing to stay connected and participating?

We would also welcome help with finding ways to increase our readership here on the blog, and on the number of people using the site for specific needs. Anyone have ideas???

Each month we are at the Farmers’ Market with our table, we learn something, connect with more people, and make connections among people and the groups that they may need, or may contribute to. It is gratifying.

We are also talking about how to be of more help in mentoring Veterans who are back in school, and who may need more encouragement, to keep going. It is an idea that our local American Legion Post 132 may be interested in working on.

So, plenty to think about. On we go.

Saturdays at the Farmers’ Market

It has been quite a while since my last blog. The holidays sure do last a long time at our house!

For months now, I have thought about writing a blog piece each time I come back from setting up our table for the morning, at our local Farmers’ Market. Each time, I don’t quite manage to get to it.

We have not had a week, during our once a month times there, when we have not been so grateful that we are able to have our table set up there. The people who come by, either to ask a question, just look at the materials we have laid out, or to simply chat and show an interest in what we are doing, are wonderful. It has been intense, and interesting and I am so grateful to those who come by.

We are succeeding in making people aware of the issues that our Veterans face. That is all that counts. We want the general population to keep our veterans in their minds and hearts, now, and in the future, and to be helpful to their efforts to be part of our communities. It is the very least that we citizens can do.

Each time I go and set up our table, secure the little three-sided display panel, lay out the many brochures and informational sheets, and assemble my two little camp chairs, I wonder who will approach the table, and how I can be useful to them, or get them interested in Veterans enough that they think of them, and maybe decide to volunteer to do some service for these folks who have given of themselves in service to this country. I am getting better and better at knowing where to steer people. Hooray!

I know more and more about our local Veterans, and what they are doing within our community, to help other Veterans. I have even become part of the Auxiliary Post for the Oro Valley American Legion Post 132. The folks in these groups are very committed, and in-the-know, about what is needed in this community for Veterans.

I am learning, too, just how many more Veterans we have out there in our own little town of Oro Valley, who have not identified themselves with any group, and who sometimes are needing a helping hand., and many who may need a hand, but would not ask for one.

Every First Saturday of the month that I go to the Oro Valley Farmers’ Market and set up my table, it is humbling, and a delight. I look forward to each occasion, and every one has been unique, but important in it’s own way, without exception.

This coming week, I will get to help serve a lunch, along with many others, at the VA here in Tucson, for all the workers at the VA. I am looking forward to that experience, and know it will be rewarding. And later this week, i’ll get to interview a young woman for the Girl’s State event this coming summer, here in Tucson. It is an event the Aux. Post helps to sponsor each year.

….But, I tell you, those Saturday mornings…I am hooked! I so enjoy meeting people who want to share something of their pasts, or want to know something that will help them live better, fuller lives, now, or who are wanting to invest their time and energy in helping someone else, who may need a leg up.

The Oro Valley Veterans Support Initiative is not doing a bad job of finding our niche as a clearinghouse…an intersection with guidance… It is slow work, but very rewarding, and there is so much pleasure in discovering people along the way; all kinds of people, with all kinds of talents and needs.

The more I know, the more I know that I do not know, but the joy is in the journey.