Area veterans attended the first StandDown event in the Brainerd area Wednesday, where services ranging from legal help to haircuts were provided.
Bob Nelson, Crow Wing County veterans service officer, said the event helps bring awareness to all of the services available to veterans, as well as opportunities to volunteer.
"I saw a lot of people here who we haven't seen before," Nelson said.
Organizers have been planning the event for the last year, Nelson said, and volunteer drivers traveled as far as Morrison County and Pequot Lakes to transport veterans to the StandDown at the National Guard Armory in Brainerd. More than 50 vendors shared information relevant to veterans.
The event was sponsored by the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV). Paul Pedersen, MACV outreach manager, told the crowd of dozens of veterans to pass the knowledge they gained at the event to others.
"I would just like to challenge every one of you, go forth, and if you know veterans, share with them," Pedersen said. "We are our best asset, our brothers and sisters in arms. Help those that aren't here, help those that may not have the strength to ask for help."
Kent Traenkle of Nisswa, a Navy veteran who served from 1962-65, said he came to the event because a friend told him about it.
"It only took 50 years, but here I am," Traenkle said. "Veterans have benefits, and I didn't realize that. I think it will help a lot of people. Sometimes we need a little bump to kind of help us on the road."
Seated at the same table as Traenkle during the free lunch, Army veteran Daren Jordan said he came to become more connected to professionals in the area who provide veteran services. Jordan moved to Brainerd six months ago.
"(I came) just so I could see what all the community has to offer. Not just for veterans, but for the community in general," Jordan said.
Jordan said he was interested to learn about the services available at Northern Pines Mental Health Center in Brainerd.
"I thought they only dealt with people with severe disabilities," Jordan said. "But I found out they pretty much help out in all aspects."
StandDown events are inspired by the services provided to Vietnam era veterans on bases after they returned to war. There, soldiers were able to shave, get a hot meal, see a dentist or mail letters.
Pedersen said he was pleased with the turnout, although that was not the most important thing about the event.
"I think if we can help one veteran, that it's a success," he said.
Even those who don't need services can get something from a StandDown, Pedersen added. These types of events are where friendships begin and camaraderie with fellow veterans from all eras can be beneficial, too, he said.
"You find those relationships with folks that have done that service and maybe you learn something," Pedersen said.