By BRADEN LAMMERS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
While a group of motorcycle riders, many of whom are veterans, took to the streets of New Albany to mark Armed Forces Day, a collection of groups offering assistance to former members of the military hosted a Stand Down event in Jeffersonville.
Both events are in their first year and are designed to bring assistance and awareness to veterans in Southern Indiana.
Don Harshey was asked by members of New Albany’s Bicentennial Committee to help organize an event in the city to mark Armed Forces Day.
Harshey, a Vietnam veteran, contacted the American Legion Riders Chapter 28 and came up with the idea of having a motorcycle ride trough New Albany. He said the Legion Riders helped put the Thunder through New Albany event together that rolled out from the waterfront at 11:30 a.m.
The motorcycle parade of about 60 to 70 riders took a 30- to 40-mile route through the city which passed a number of veterans markers, including memorials, and the New Albany National Cemetery along the way.
After the parade the American Legion post hosted a reception at the Floyd County 4-H Fairgrounds complete with an appreciation ceremony, memorabilia on display and were collecting for the Veterans Affairs Patient Comfort Item Fund.
The items collected will go to benefit the VA Medical Center in Louisville, and provide basic need items like a toothbrush, razor, shampoo and other personal items. In addition, donations of household items are used to benefit a partnership between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that assists homeless veterans find apartments or homes.
Again, it provides basic items like linens, dishes, utensils, cookware and cleaning supplies.
Harshey said in conjunction with the New Albany Bicentennial Committee the purpose of the event was to show an appreciation for U.S. military veterans, at the end of Armed Forces week.
“Especially those who paid the ultimate price, that’s who we’re here to honor,” he said.
American Legion Chapter 28 -- which includes the Legionnaires (veterans); Auxiliary (spouses and female relatives of veterans); Sons (male relatives of veterans); and the Legion Riders — also used the event as an opportunity to host a special reception for a New Albany-based National Guard unit that recently returned from Afghanistan.
“This being Armed Forces Day, we thought it was the perfect time,” said Beverly Crump, community service organizer for the American Legion Auxiliary. “They’ve never had a reception for any of the National Guard units.”
She said the Military Police unit that is based in New Albany, and includes members from Ohio, Illinois and Michigan returned from Afghanistan in January.
“This is the first month that we’ve been able to host this reception for them,” Crump said. “It’s kind of a thank you for what you do. We just want to show the [people] that are actively serving how much we appreciate them serving our country and protecting us on a daily basis. [We’re] just kind of letting them know we’re there for them.”
JEFFERSONVILLE STAND DOWN
A group made up of about 20 different organizations was set up in Jeffersonville’s Nachand Fieldhouse also offering their support for local veterans.
About halfway through the event hosted by the Southern Indiana Military Support Network, Melissa Poole, AmeriCorps VISTA and organizer of the Stand Down, said about 60 veterans had already come through the doors.
“The stand down is an event to help former military members who are in need of assistance because they’re either at risk, or homeless,” Poole explained. “We’re hoping the people that are at risk find the resources they need to avoid becoming homeless. We realize a one-day event is not going to stop someone from becoming homeless ... but the idea of a stand down is to provide them with the resources. And it’s a humanizing event. The homeless, so often, get overlooked.”
Around Nachand Fieldhouse booths were set up offering a variety of services for veterans, from WorkOne, to family assistance specialists, the Ohio Valley Blind Association, the Red Cross, LifeSpring and Prosser’s school of cosmetology was even on-hand offering free haircuts for the veterans.
“This is an opportunity for people in need to meet up with one another,” Poole said. “It’s a sentence you’ll hear tossed around a lot, but military members write a check up to and including life and this is kind of a way to honor that. We want honor our veterans and thank them for their service. This year is the first year we’ve tried to pull together so many resources.”
Rick Phillips, Disabled American Veterans District 5 commander, said the need for veterans services in the region is apparent.
He said there are so many challenges when veterans return home from combat, often including dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries, that need to be addressed. Phillips added he is working on getting a Disabled Americans Chapter in Sellersburg formalized and is working on a variety of veterans’ issues in the area.
“We go out and do anything we can for a veteran,” he said.
Floyd County Superior Court No. 3 Judge Maria Granger, who also serves as the Veterans Court of Southern Indiana judge, said many veterans deal with difficulties re-entering civilian life and the challenges of managing their care.
“They help create awareness and access,” she said of the stand down events. “There’s a multitude of resources. it’s just letting people know that they’re there. Not only does it help veterans, but it helps other resource providers know what other services are out there.
“It is a wonderful message to the community how valuable ... our service members have been and it’s a way to support them and let them know we haven’t forgotten them,” Granger said.