ROCK ISLAND, Ill.-With a smile big enough to light up a room, Melinda Verstraete gently extended her hand and heart to homeless veterans from the Quad City area during Stand Down 2010.

Verstraete, along with two veterans - a Marine and a Sailor - and Patty Perrigo, who works with Verstraete in the Army Sustainment Command's Human Resources, stocked donated toiletries, nonperishable foods, and clothing in the ASC's booth during the 10th annual event at the QCCA Expo Center, Sept. 16 - 18.

Verstraete is the "Always a Soldier" program manager for ASC. The program is an Army Materiel Command-led initiative to hire veterans who still desire to serve even after their commitment to the military service.

The rather unassuming booth, set way back in the exposition center - past the sizzling grill, permeated with the odors of frying sausage, scrambled eggs and flap-jacks; beyond the multitude of volunteers and local organizations willing and eager to lend a hand; very near the vast shelves of donated shoes and winter coats - resplendent in its plainness, displayed its donated goodness to the multitude of homeless veterans standing in line.

In fact, there were more veterans in line at the ASC booth than in line for the free breakfast. Whether this was due to the speed at which those in line had already consumed their eggs and sausage, or - more likely - because the ASC booth had, according to Verstraete, "what they need."

"I think it's because we give them a lot of what they need, like toiletries, the towels, stuff as a homeless veteran they need - those little compact things to carry along with them," she said. "We have all the little things they need to live on a daily basis."

All of the goods given away at the booth were donated by members of ASC and the Arsenal workforce. The ASC booth offered up everything from single-servings of canned chili macaroni, lip balm, pocket-sized tissues, and hats, to piles of socks, tote bags and rAfAsumAfAs - or, at least help with the writing of rAfAsumAfAs.

"This year we are [facilitating] the Always a Soldier program," said Verstraete. "So, we're here to help the veterans try to find employment."

Verstraete was not alone in this endeavor. Jeret Pinczer, Marine veteran and representative of Rock Island Arsenal's Civilian Personnel Advisory Center, was on hand to assist veterans with their rAfAsumAfA questions and to offer advice on the possibilities of employment with the Arsenal and the Army. Using Resumix, a software application used to store and sort submitted rAfAsumAfAs, Pinczer offered technical advice and assisted the veterans in the application process.

"We invited the CPAC (Civilian Personnel Advisory Center) here this year, because we want to help the veterans who have any problems with Resumix," said Verstraete. "I want to help any of the veterans look into the Always a Soldier program."

With the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs and other defense, labor and veterans organizations, ASC supports the hiring of wounded servicemen and women.

Former Navy veteran and new ASC employee, Alfredo Villarreal, was hired through the Always a Soldier program. Verstraete, who works with Villarreal, believes, of anyone, he is the most qualified to boast the program's worth.

"I thought it was really important for him to be involved," said Verstrate. "He helped set everything up for us and he saw the beginning and he'll be here to see the end of this project.

"I was really glad that we got him."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16