MARSHALL - All servicemembers matter. That was the message people received while attending the first-ever For All Who Have Served event Saturday at the Lyon County Fairgrounds in Marshall.
Throughout the day, a number of veterans took advantage of the cost-free resources and activities geared toward them and their families. From hearing tests to resume writing, to budget-planning to employment support, it seemed as though the event had it all.
"We've got all the different organizations out here, all the benefits in one building," said Justin Guggisberg, who is the southwest regional coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. "We had all the employers here, too, that wanted to hire veterans and learn about the benefits of hiring veterans. We did seminars for them."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Justin Guggisberg, left, southwest regional coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, talked with a number of people at the first-ever For All Who Have Served event Saturday.
Later in the day, civilians also joined the steady flow of attendees. For organizer Jeff Gay, there was some disappointment that even more people didn't show up, but for a first-time event, he was pleased.
"I think it went quite well," Gay said. "As one of our VA partnerships said, 'if we only saw one today, it would have been worth it.'"
Gay, specialist for the Minnesota Military Family Assistance Center and Marshall American Legion commander, was instrumental in getting the event off the ground.
"Jeff did a great job of making connections," said Jonell Wilson, who works out of the MFAC office in Brooklyn Park. "He's so involved in the community. I talked to a few people here that were able to take advantage of some of these benefits. It seemed like a lot of people showed up, so that's good."
Guggisberg also serves as director of the Veterans Club at Southwest Minnesota State University, while Cody Schneekloth is the club president.
"We help make schools more military-friendly," Guggisberg said. "What we do is meet with the veterans and help them set up their accounts, so they can get their benefits, like federal tuition assistance and state tuition reimbursements."
A lot of it is goal-setting, Guggisberg said.
"There are ways to make the things work together to make their degrees goals met," he said. "That's what we do."
Having the club at SMSU gives veterans a place to go and someone to talk to.
"Being in a club together, they get to discuss what they're each getting for benefits and find out more about what they could be benefiting from," Guggisberg said.
World War II veteran Frank Arends and his wife, Delores, of Marshall, attended the event, which was meant for veterans of all service branches from all eras. The gathering was also a chance for many to share their military stories.
"I was in the Army and then they put me in the Air Force, which I really liked," Frank Arends said. "I was stationed in Greenland."
Ray and Delores DeVos of Taunton were also there and enjoyed visiting with fellow veterans and their families.
"I was in the Navy," Ray DeVos said. "I got to visit with another Navy guy (Saturday). I'm glad I came."
While DeVos has a number of family members who also served in the Navy, he said his grandkids were all Army National Guardsmen.
"I served from '48 to '52," he said. "I enlisted for three years, but the Korean War broke out and froze us for a year longer. I was on the East Coast, from Newfoundland to Key West."
DeVos said he's learned that as a veteran, you have to be assertive about finding the necessary resources, which he admitted were out there. This event, he said, allowed access to a number of valuable resources.
"It seems like if you don't go after what you need, you get nothing," he said. "And, that won't end. You have to go and get it, but they are out there."
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) volunteers Steve Glaeser and Ron Muehlbauer were on hand to provide veteran support.
"Basically, what we do is teach servicemembers and employers what their responsibilities are to each other," Muehlbauer said. "I think the employer understands what their responsibilities are. The most important part that the servicemember needs to do is make sure the employers know when things are going to happen."
Communication is key, the representatives said, and fortunately, conflicts are few and far between.
Shades of the Past car club members were asked to display an array of classic cars and they did just that. At the front of each vehicle rested a sign expressing support for the troops.
Besides children's activities and a business after hours get-together, Screaming Cactus and The Walking Phoenixes bands provided a grand finale for everyone.
"This was all a team effort," Gay said. "It's something I believe in, getting something for everybody that has ever served in a uniform... This one went well enough to where I think we'll do it again next year."