CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - “Give me strength to lead by caring.” It’s a line of the time-honored Army Combat medic prayer that encapsulates what’s often most endearing about the combat medic. They train hard to be experts in their craft, but their actions are often led by compassion.
On Sept. 7, medics from the 134th Ambulance Company from Johnston loaded up in field medical ambulances and drove to an event in Cedar Rapids — to show they care.
Iowa National Guard medics supported the 17th annual “Five Seasons Stand Down” at the Veterans Memorial Stadium. The event is a resource fair for veterans and others experiencing homelessness.
Community members came from all corners of the city and all over the hardship spectrum. Some were living in tents in wooded encampments or natural urban shelters such as bridges and parking garages. Others lived in community-supported shelters or were housed but at risk of homelessness.
Lining the inside stadium corridor were scores of tables with over 70 local governmental and nongovernmental organizations waiting to serve them, providing everything from haircuts to employment counseling, medical evaluations, and free clothing and food.
The 134th medics are combat-trained and specialize in sophisticated lifesaving battlefield interventions. At the stand down, they checked vital signs. As veterans took seats, the medics fastened blood pressure cuffs and pulse oximeters to them while listening to their heart rates with stethoscopes. And they exchanged stories about their service experiences.
“We were just happy to be there, to interact with all other service providers and veterans,” said Sgt. Keaton Schultz, team leader from the 134th Medical Company. “Many of us joined [the Iowa National Guard] because we wanted to serve our communities. Today, we feel like we’re doing it.”
According to the Iowa Department of Veteran Affairs, there are over 30,400 homeless veterans nationwide. Although that is down from previous years, veterans are still overrepresented and at greater risk of homelessness than the general population. That risk has been attributed to several factors, including the heavy weight of duty and service veterans have carried.
A “stand down” is a military term for when Soldiers are ordered to rest. The “stand down” events are intended to provide momentary relief from the harsh realities of homelessness and show veterans the community cares.
“Participating in the stand down was meaningful to us because, as service members, we’re familiar with the huge sacrifices these Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen have made during their time in the military and beyond,” said Capt. Megan Cartwright, commander, 134th Ambulance Company. “The least we can do is be of service to them now.”