Cum­ber­land in­vites vets to Stand Down Hun­dreds of mil­i­tary veter­ans visit Di­a­mond Hill Park to take part in an­nual Op­er­a­tion Stand Down

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSEPH B. NADEAU jnadeau@woonsock­et­

CUM­BER­LAND – The green and cam­ou­flaged mil­i­tary tents were back in place at Di­a­mond Hill Park on Fri­day as the 25th An­niver­sary Op­er­a­tion Stand Down week­end got un­der way.

The vol­un­teer veter­ans’ as­sis­tance pro­gram was ex­pect­ing a record num­ber of former mem­bers of the mil­i­tary to visit the en­camp­ment while meet­ing old and new friends and ac­cess­ing a wide range of sup­port ser­vices.

“It’s go­ing very well,” Dee De­quat­tro, Op­er­a­tion Stand Down di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said as veter­ans con­tin­ued to ar­rive at the park Fri­day morn­ing.

“We open at 7 a.m. and we’ve al­ready had our first bus of veter­ans come in and a sec­ond is on the way,” she said.

Last year, De­quat­tro said about 500 veter­ans made the trip out to Di­a­mond Hill Park and she ex­pected much more than that to be there as the week­end con­tin­ues.

Op­er­a­tion Stand Down has been based at the park for the past 23 years and has re­ceived in­creased sup­port for

its ser­vices over the years, she noted.

The en­camp­ment is styled on a mil­i­tary for­ward op­er­at­ing base and has all the fa­cil­i­ties you would ex­pect to find in one in­clud­ing hous­ing and a mess hall.

The camp al­lows Op­er­a­tion Stand Down’s part­ner agen­cies to have di­rect con­tact with veter­ans at a sin­gle lo­ca­tion, she ex­plained.

“The goal is to help veter­ans in need with an ar­ray of ser­vices whether that is hous­ing, em­ploy­ment, ba­sic health ser­vices, food, cloth­ing, le­gal ser­vices and sub­stance abuse coun­sel­ing,” she said.

The Rhode Is­land Traf­fic Tri­bunal will have an of­fice set up at the camp on Satur­day to help veter­ans with li­cense or records is­sues, she noted.

A num­ber of coun­sel­ing providers will also have booths where the veter­ans can con­nect with any of ser­vices that they re­quire, she added.

U.S. Sen­a­tor Shel­don White­house, D-RI, who joined U.S. Rep. David Ci­cilline, Gov. Gina Rai­mondo, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, Gen­eral Trea­surer Seth Magaziner, and Sen­a­tor Jack Reed in kick­ing off the week­end, said Op­er­a­tion Stand Down was an op­por­tu­nity for the sup­port groups to reach out to veter­ans “no mat­ter where they are,” and make sure their needs are be­ing met. “It’s veter­ans help­ing veter­ans,” he said. “It is also kind of a chance for peo­ple to get to­gether and share their ex­pe­ri­ences and the prob­lems that they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. It is a real com­mu­nity,” White­house said.

Tony De­quat­tro, Dee’s fa­ther and one of the founders of Op­er­a­tion Stand Down from Cum­ber­land’s Amer­i­can Le­gion Post, said the group went to work help­ing veter­ans with their needs be­cause “the gov­ern­ment wasn’t do­ing it.”

The group kept see­ing their fel­low veter­ans on the street be­cause they weren’t get­ting the help they needed and started work­ing with other or­ga­ni­za­tions to ad­dress the prob­lem, he said.

“It has been grow­ing ever since,” De­quat­tro said.

Early on Op­er­a­tion Stand Down helped Viet­nam veter­ans who were strug­gling with the af­ter­math of their ser­vice but more re­cently the or­ga­ni­za­tion is see­ing more and more veter­ans of the Iraq and Afghanistan and Per­sian Gulf con­flicts com­ing to the en­camp­ments.

The en­camp­ment set up also seeks to give the veter­ans an en­vi­ron­ment in which they will be able to ad­dress some of their needs on their own, he noted.

“It brings them back to a point in time in their lives when they had re­spect and dig­nity and the ca­ma­raderie of a vet­eran to a vet­eran,” he said.

“We have ev­ery ser­vice that they need here and it is one stop shop­ping,” he said.

Cum­ber­land Mayor Wil­liam Mur­ray, who was joined by Mayor Al­lan Fung of Cranston at the en­camp­ment, said he viewed Op­er­a­tion Stand Down as an “out­stand­ing” or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We have had this at Di­a­mond Hill Park for 23 years now and with ab­so­lutely no prob­lems while be­ing able to do a ser­vice that helps our veter­ans,” Mur­ray said. Mur­ray, him­self a vet­eran of the Army, said it also meant some­thing to him to be able to help “our veter­ans, es­pe­cially in th­ese times when there is so much need.”

It is the Op­er­a­tion Stand Down or­ga­ni­za­tion that makes it all work, Mur­ray noted. “They run a re­ally great show and when it is all done you won’t even know that they were here,” he said.

David East­wood of Woonsocket, a vet­eran of the Navy and the Na­tional Guard with 10 years of ser­vice, said he liked vis­it­ing the en­camp­ment be­cause of con­nec­tions he makes with fel­low veter­ans.

“You can talk to a com­plete stranger when you get here and end up with a new friend for the rest of the week­end,” he said.

Stephen Wy­att of Prov­i­dence, an Army vet­eran, said this week­end will be the sixth Op­er­a­tion Stand Down en­camp­ment that he has at­tended. “Ev­ery time I come here, I take away some­thing,” Wy­att said.

There were even a few older veter­ans at the camp on Fri­day like Leroy D. Cooper of Prov­i­dence, a former Army En­gi­neers mem­ber who spent time build­ing roads near the 38th Par­al­lel af­ter the Korean War ended. “I still think about it a lot and I look at the news­pa­per ev­ery­day and lis­ten to the news,” Cooper said while not­ing he is con­cerned about the re­cent events in the Korean penin­sula. “It is a crit­i­cal thing and peo­ple don’t know what is go­ing on,” he said. Cooper was glad he could stop in at the camp just for the day, see some fel­low veter­ans and also have a nice meal. “I think that ev­ery­thing they do here for the veter­ans is won­der­ful,” he said.

Again this year, Gov. Rai­mondo worked the serv­ing line for lunch and helped to fill the veter­ans’ plates along with the rest of the state and fed­eral of­fi­cials at­tend­ing.

“It is an honor to be able to serve lunch to peo­ple who have served their na­tion and it is the least we can do,” Rai­mondo said. “No vet­eran who served their coun­try should ever go hun­gry and I am glad to be able to sup­port Op­er­a­tion Stand Down,” she said.

Rai­mondo said she talked to many of the veter­ans pass­ing her sta­tion, ladling out roasted chicken pre­pared by John­son & Wales Univer­sity chefs, and re­ceived many pos­i­tive re­ac­tions. “They love their coun­try and they are also so grate­ful for this week­end,” she said.

Ci­cilline said the week­end al­lowed Rhode Is­landers to say thank you to veter­ans in a way that also as­sists them with their needs. The list of avail­able ser­vices can help the veter­ans ad­dress any is­sue they may be fac­ing and pro­vide take away con­nec­tions to sup­port ser­vices that can help in the fu­ture, he noted.

Al­though it may not be pos­si­ble to “fully re­pay the men and women who have served the coun­try,” Ci­cilline said it is im­por­tant to make sure that they have all the re­sources needed to live their lives. “We need to sup­port them in the same way that we re­spect their ser­vice and honor their ser­vice,” he said.

Sen. Reed cred­ited De­quat­tro with com­ing up with a con­cept that puts all the ser­vices veter­ans need in one lo­ca­tion for a week­end.

“You can have peo­ple who are in be­tween hous­ing, peo­ple who are fac­ing other is­sues and there are peo­ple who have claims in for VA ben­e­fits and need help and as­sis­tance,” Reed said. “This is not only a com­pas­sion­ate out­reach to veter­ans but also a very ef­fec­tive out­reach to veter­ans,” Reed said while not­ing the num­ber long­time vol­un­teers in­volved with the en­camp­ment.

Kasim Yarn, Rhode Is­land’s Di­rec­tor of Veter­ans Af­fairs, said he saw Op­er­a­tion Stand Down as an in­di­ca­tion of the very best part of Rhode Is­land as a whole. “This is the epit­ome of who we are,” he said. “It is Rhode Is­landers help­ing Rhode Is­landers, and the en­tire state, all its agen­cies, has come out to sup­port our veter­ans,” he said.

Mike Her­oux of Woonsocket, pres­i­dent of the St. Joseph Veter­ans As­so­ci­a­tion and a vol­un­teer with the meal pro­gram, said he was sur­prised by how many peo­ple were show­ing up at the en­camp­ment on Fri­day. “It is an out­stand­ing event and it is all run by vol­un­teers,” he said.

An­other Rhode Is­land vet­eran, John Cianci, now a mem­ber of the Rhode Is­land Chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Red Cross, re­called when Op­er­a­tion Stand Down was first started by De­quat­tro and his fel­low veter­ans while he was serv­ing with the Rhode Is­land Na­tional Guard.

“This has be­come one of the best if not the best op­er­a­tions of its kind in the coun­try,” Cianci said. “And now af­ter 25 years, when you look at what they are do­ing here, it is phe­nom­e­nal,” he said.

Photo by Joseph B. Nadeau

Mil­i­tary boots rep­re­sent­ing the sac­ri­fices of Rhode Is­land sol­diers, in­clud­ing Paw­tucket’s Kyle Coutu, are ar­ranged on the grounds of Di­a­mond Hill Park on Fri­day, as the park hosted the 25th an­nual Op­er­a­tion Stand Down week­end.

Photo by Joseph B. Nadeau

Korean War vet­eran Leroy D. Cooper, right, is served lunch by Gov. Gina Rai­mondo, left, along with Cum­ber­land Mayor Bill Mur­ray and RI Veter­ans Af­fairs Di­rec­tor Kasim Yarn.

Photo by Joseph B. Nadeau

U.S. Army vet­eran Don Mather voices con­cerns to Gov. Gina Rai­mondo.

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