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Standing up for vets on Stand Down day
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Superior Court Judge Barbara Kronlund shares a light moment with Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker and another court employee during the “Stand Down” event Friday morning. - photo by GLENN KAHL/ The Bulletin
STOCKTON – It was a day of transition Friday for homeless veterans and those former GIs living below the poverty line at the San Joaquin County Homeless Veterans Stand Down.

Manteca Police Chief David Bricker has seen many of his officers over the last several years donate their time to escort veterans from station to station, giving them the opportunities of  clearing police records and receiving dental and medical attention.  In some cases the veterans have even landed a job at the end of the day.

There were some 200 volunteers who helped make the day a success,  along with Manteca officers Lt. Nick Obligacion and his wife Sallie, Sgt. Lewis Clark, School Resource Officer April Smith, Officer Jason Hensley, Rex Osborn, and Irma Patrick from the city’s public works department  who brought along two friends.

Charlotte Stafford, a USO volunteer from the Vietnam era, was right up front escorting vets through the crowded stations, making a difference.  Stafford currently has a full agenda of volunteering in the Manteca community, including being a member of the Doctors Hospital Auxiliary.  She said her main focus is “all things veterans,” and when Police Chief Dave Bricker told her about the event, she couldn’t refuse to show up and do her part.

“I recruited my neighbor, Ginger Lewis, to come with me,” she said, “because she agrees the vets’ situation is as important to her as it is to me.”

Stafford’s first charge on Friday was Tony Graham, 51, who had recently moved to Northern California from Santa Monica.  She said he was trying to get his life together after losing his driver’s license because of a “walking” crosswalk citation that he failed to answer in the Southland.

Chief Bricker said the “Stand Down” is designed to change a guy’s life in just one day.  He told of one vet who was behind in his child support payments and got a ticket for a broken tail light – a ticket that he failed to pay which resulted in his losing his  license.  Without a license he couldn’t drive, and without a car he lost his job.  That resulted in total frustration, no longer having the ability to meet his bills.

Bricker said the “Stand Down” court set up a payment plan to allow the man  to catch up with his child support and cleared the ticket at the DMV station , reinstating his driver’s license.  From there, he was taken to WorkNet where his employment qualifications were recognized and he landed a job.

The Manteca police chief said that in numerous occasions, veterans have found through the “Stand Down” event that they are actually eligible for GI bill education benefits launching them on an educational track.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Kronlund was the original inspiration behind the “Stand Down” in San Joaquin County, similar to larger three-day events in the Bay Area and in San Diego.

She first asked her fellow judges to initiate a veterans’ homeless court within the San Joaquin County Superior Court System.  After they agreed, her effort to stand for homeless vets evolved into hosting the “Stand Down” for the homeless veterans and those living at or below the poverty line.

The first “Stand Down” event was held in 2007 with the Manteca Police Department officers volunteering to serve any way they could to make a difference for the vets.

Judge Kronlund sees the homeless veterans as a disenfranchised group that should have the support of their country – a country they put their lives and limbs on the line to defend.

Asked what first inspired her to stand up for the veterans, she said she had grown up in a family where her dad was an immigrant.  Her folks and her siblings loved America to the point they would all stand up in their living room with their hands over their hearts when a flag passed in review on the television screen or the Star-Spangled Banner was sung.

She said as she got older she was in awe to see that the families of friends didn’t do the same thing in their homes to show and feel their patriotism.

“I thought everybody did that; It makes me feel ill to see vets having to live under bridges,” she said.

At the end of the day, several of the vets were seen trailing away from the WorkNet offices west of the Greyhound Bus Lines building on South Lincoln Street,  unsure where they would spend their night, but obviously thankful for their new sleeping bags and backpacks.

Many of them had the chance to get a hot shower and a change of clothes, and they all had the opportunity to visit with a dentist or a medic during the day.