On Behalf Of Our Fighting Men & Women03 November 2014 Written by By Steve Todd, With Margaret Sandoval
Published in November 2014 Articles
For the past five years I’ve been commander of Brentwood Post 10789 of the Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW).
The VFW provides veterans, who faithfully served our country on battlefields, with opportunities to continue serving during peacetime. It also provides a place for combat veterans to associate with people with histories and experiences in common. Most of the people around us — neighbors, fellow workers, and friends — are unable to comprehend the things that some of us went through. We can find no words to communicate to civilians the continuing effect of things we witnessed and endured. At our VFW post, however, we are able to participate in informal peer-to-peer communications, which serve to alleviate some of the effects of the post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) that have become a simple fact of life for so many of us.
The VFW is doing some proactive things to help counteract the tragic fact that every day an average of 22 veterans finally cave in to pressures and demands and take their life. We are educating veterans on their benefits and getting them hooked up with whatever hospital care they require. In particular, we are supporting the Delta Veterans Group’s program of veteran assistance homeless outreach. The group has only been in existence for a year and already has a track record of supporting veterans in a variety of ways. We are giving them space in the Vet’s Hall to use as an office. Our Vet’s Hall is also available to them on third and fourth Mondays with people on hand to assist veterans in filling out required paperwork in order to file claims for any service-connected disabilities.
Post 10789 is also engaged in a number of community service projects. For example, we sponsor a Boy Scouts Troop and the Brentwood Explorer Post 415. We work with the Brentwood Police Activity League (PAL) and the Liberty High School Band. We help at the Annual Blues, Brews, and Barbeques, and sponsor the Cherry Bomb Salon’s annual fundraising Cut-A-Thon. We have provided security for the Diablo Valley Mustang Association’s meeting. When Congressman Frazier brought the Traveling Wall memorial for combatants fallen in the Vietnam War, CHP wanted to charge him what seemed an exorbitant fee for security. When we learned of this, we told him, “Why not let the vets do it?” We provided 24-hour security at no cost, gladly donating our time in honor of the brave men and women whose names are on that wall.
Each year we bring our motorcycles and participate in local schools’ Veterans Day programs. We conduct Poppy Drives in May and November. The flowers are free; all donations go into the Relief Fund to assist veterans in our East County communities. We sponsor Pancake Breakfast fundraisers to support Brentwood PD’s “Shop With Cops” program and are planning to sponsor Heritage High’s Jr. ROTC, which might be the first ever in Brentwood.
We have become a clearinghouse for donated wheelchairs and electronic scooters. We fixed up a nice wheelchair for a young woman in Antioch whose old wheelchair had been held together by duct tape. Assemblyman Jim Frazier had been trying to get the chair repaired through County services. Red tape was dragging the project down, so we located a first class wheelchair and presented it to the young woman at our First Annual Poker Run. Since then I have seen her on a number of occasions making use of the gift of mobility that we were able to provide.
Newby But Commander
I’m a veteran of the Gulf Wars. When we arrived home from the Middle East, a VFW commander met us and offered us a year’s free membership. None of us took advantage of the offer; we didn’t even know what the VFW was.
In 2007, due to a number of health issues, I reluctantly accepted medical retirement and found myself back home in Antioch, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. For a couple years I struggled with a sense of being adrift without compass or chart. Everything changed for me in 2009, when I ran across a couple guys in Tracy at the Texas Roadhouse wearing their VFW pins and badges. They saw the military pins on my vest and struck up a conversation. They told me a little about the VFW and invited me to a meeting. Not having anything better to do, I showed up the next week. I hadn’t known that Brentwood even had a Vet’s Hall and was unimpressed by the bleak ambience of the place with its pool table and smelly old wood paneling. About 15 guys showed up for the meeting. I just lurked in the background, listening to them talk about the Corn Fest. In those days, the Corn Fest provided the post’s only source of revenue.
I became a member and started tocome back each month. The meetings were pretty boring, but I would grab a beer, listen to the conversation, and then go to Sweeney’s afterwards for another beer and something to eat. I treated those evenings as a Guy’s Night Out. The next year, the commander, who had been at his post for five years, said he was tired of the job. Someone nominated me, another seconded, they conducted a unanimous vote, and I had suddenly become the official Post Commander. I didn’t know a thing about the job and didn’t even know that I could have turned down the nomination while I had the opportunity to do so.
That was five years ago and every year since they’ve stuck me with the job again. However, I’m an advocate of the ancient principle that if a job is worth doing at all it is worth doing well. During those five years we doubled the number of people attending the meetings and have greatly increased the post membership to more than 200.
At least half of the credit for the new life we’ve breathed into the VFW goes to my wife, Margaret. When Corn Fest came to an end she helped me identify a new funding source for the projects we had going on by that time. We decided not to simply do another Pancake Breakfast fundraiser and, instead, set up a Poker Run & Scavenger Hunt. The Poker Run had great appeal for the local motorcycle population, but the Scavenger Hunt brought in the wives and children, which turned the event into a family affair.
At the beginning I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but Margaret was really excited, so I went along with her plan. After all, I didn’t have a better idea. A core committee of four couples put the plan together. Margaret and the committee also enlisted the help of other wives and, in particular, the women members of the VFW Auxiliary. Diablo Vista Elementary School loaned us their carnival equipment. Margaret worked hard to include other veteran groups including the Joey Graves Foundation, the Marine Corps League, the American Legion, the Warriors Watch Riders, Blue Star Moms, and Operation Creekside.
On the day of the event, April 26, the Vets Hall served as the staging area. Participants stopped by five destinations where Poker Run participants received a playing card and everyone else participated in that particular part of the scavenger hunt. Each of the five parts of the hunt was designed to focus on some aspect of the local veterans activities; highlighting a particular veteran organization with information about their history and activities. The First Annual Poker Run & Scavenger Hunt was a huge success! We are already beginning to plan next year’s event for April 18. Margaret and the other members of the team are determined to make it bigger and better than ever.
Even better than the donations, perhaps, was the fact that there was a lot of camaraderie at the event, which created an example of inter-cooperation among the various veteran groups that carried over into subsequent events. The VFW has taken a lead on this. For example, we assist the Marine Corps League in their annual crab feed fundraiser. The VFW, American Legion, and Marine Corps League all work together in sponsoring the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs. There is a new spirit of cooperation among the groups and a refreshing sense that we are all in this together.
Sometimes I take time to be amazed at my personal history and the astonishing pathway that has had so many horrible and wonderful twists, turns, catastrophes, and triumphs. I am grateful that I’ve come to the place where I can actually be of service to my community and work alongside such an amazing human being as Margaret in providing resources and encouragement for our local veteran population who need and deserve whatever help we can provide.
Margaret and I are doing everything we can to help Post 10789 and the auxiliary live up to their mission. VFW is here to serve. We’re here to assist it in doing so.