Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
Photos by J.C. Newton, Kentucky National Guard Recruiting Command
The Interlink Counseling Services color guard leads their family of Veterans during the 2011 Veteran’s Day parade in downtown Louisville. Some Kentucky National Guard troops donated their old uniforms to make sure the color guard was properly equipped.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Holiday spirit is expressed in many forms. Sometimes it comes with ribbons, sometimes with tags. Sometimes it comes in packages, boxes, and bags.
And sometimes it comes in camouflage.
Rick Waddell is interviewed by the local TV station about “Operation Homeland” an initiative to deliver nearly 2,000 backpack survival kits to Louisville area homeless veterans.
Members of the Kentucky National Guard recently gathered together to help out their brothers and sisters in need through donations to Interlink Counseling Services, a reintegration center that supports homeless veterans.
“We’ve been around since 1993, ” said Rick Waddell, director of the center. “Our mission is to seek out Veterans in distress and guide them along the healing process. We try to address all their needs, physical, psychological, social, and spiritual, and find the resources to help them.”
Interlink features a long term treatment center with 100 beds. Veterans can stay for up to two years while receiving treatment and support to get back on their feet.
“We average about 350-400 Veterans coming through our center every year,” said Waddell. “The average stay is about nine months.”
This year Kentucky Guard members donated nearly 2,000 backpacks containing toiletry items, toothbrushes, hats, gloves, ponchos and food — whatever could be used to make life a little more comfortable for living on the street.
Soldiers even donated their old uniforms so the veterans could have a proper color guard during this year’s Veterans Day Parade.
“When we visited the facility we knew we wanted to help in some manner,” said JC Newton, a retired NCO who currently works with the 2nd Battalion 75th Recruiting Command. “Our troops stepped up and pitched in with their contributions.”
“We were especially happy to see them wear their uniforms during the Veterans Day parade,” he said. “This is a mission that really touched our hearts.”
Community Outreach National Coordinator Freddie W. Maggard helped coordinate the donations.
“We were honored to assist in this project,” said Maggard. “As a former Soldier, you can’t help but feel strongly about helping our Veterans in time of need.”
Maggard said that Hope Community Church of Frankfort and Lawrenceburg played a valuable role in gathering up the donations. He also praised Frankfort Dentist Dr. Patrick Peters, who donated hundreds of tooth brushes, tooth paste, and other dental hygiene items for the back packs.
“We only wish we could do more.”
“We are really grateful for all that the Kentucky Guard has done for us,” said Waddell. “We’re also getting support from Fort Knox and Campbell, and we’re thankful to them as well.”
Waddell says the average age of homeless Veterans has dropped about eight years, due in large part to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Unemployment is the main issue, of course, stemming from post traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues. Our focus in 2012 is to concentrate on mental health issues that lead to alcohol and drug abuse.”
For more information on Interlink Counseling Services call 502-964-7147 or visit www.interlinkservices.org.