Military service leaves many servicemen and servicewomen mentally and physically scarred, but there are a whole slew of community and government organizations in La Plata County and Southwest Colorado ready to help people address their trauma and heal.
Around 30 of those organizations were represented by vendor booths or officials at the La Plata County Fairgrounds on Saturday for the annual La Plata County Veterans Stand Down, a resource fair for veterans of all walks of life and particularly for homeless veterans and veterans experiencing trauma.
The American Legion, American Red Cross, Durango Veterans Affairs Clinic, Southwest Center for Independence and Adaptive Sports were just a handful of the groups gathered at the fairgrounds to offer support to veterans.
Greg Dotson, county Veteran Service Officer and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031 member, said by 11 a.m. about 60 veterans had visited the Stand Down on Saturday.
A variety of clothing materials and bathroom essentials were on display throughout the exhibit hall for veterans to take as needed. Among the collection of items were sweaters, handbags, denim jeans, plaid button-up shirts, slippers, boots, blankets, soap bars, canes, swimming trunks and sleeping bags.
Packages of socks were accompanied by anonymous heartwarming letters of sympathy, support and encouragement for former troops.
One sock note read: “To our country, and freedom we enjoy. Thank you for your sacrifice for us. We appreciate and honor you! You are not forgotten!! You are loved!”
Happy Pappy’s Pizza and Serious Texas BBQ donated food for the Stand Down, and attendees happily slurped coffee and snacked on pizza during their breaks from browsing the aisles of vendor booths and donated clothing.
United States Navy veteran Dave Esper, a Durango resident of 33 years who joined the military in 1976 post-Vietnam War, was among those enjoying the free food. Chewing through one last bite of pepperoni pizza, he said his first duty station was at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Navy base in western Australia.
The base was operated jointly by the Australian and United States navies.
During his stay Down Under, Esper was a manager of the swimming pool on base. He said one Christmas Day, temperatures reached a scorching 114 degrees and added seasons are reversed on the other side of the world.
Considering the temperature, supervising the pool area was a pretty good gig, he said.
He said he tried out for the Navy SEAL’s at around 19 years old. But he “wasn’t tough enough” and ended up crewing a Navy ship for four years.
“I loved it. I should have never got out,” he said.
Stand Down is a great event where Esper gets to meet good people, pick up warm clothing before wintertime and receive access to beneficial resources.
“It’s great. I totally commend it,” he said.