National Grid Honored to Serve with Operation Stand Down Rhode Island

By Jennifer Bray

During a torrential rainstorm three years ago, Erik Wallin watched as 7,000 combat boots decorated with flags and placards, filled with water.

Each boot represented the life of a U.S. service member killed in action after 9-11. It was the centerpiece of the Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, launched by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island (OSDRI). This group raises money with events to help serve veterans, and to commemorate and honor them.

Many volunteers scrambled to get the boots out of the messy weather that day at Roger Williams Park in Providence, including members from National Grid.

“The boots were wet and rotting and turning white,” said Wallin, a veteran and Executive Director and General Counsel for OSDRI. “National Grid employees stuck with us and helped us pick up thousands of pairs of boots. They helped us drive them to the National Guard Armory, where they then helped dry them off, pulled out the thousands of soles, put them back together and then drove them back to the field. The National Grid employees worked until their hands were raw,” Wallin said.

During the week of September 15th, there was another 50 National Grid volunteers once again teaming up with OSDRI for their annual Stand Down Weekend.It brings housing, employment, medical, dental and legal services right to veterans at Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland.

“This is one-stop shopping for veterans,” said Jessica Miller, Executive Assistant for OSDRI. “This way, they don’t have to travel the system.” Miller is the wife of a member of the Rhode Island Air National Guard, the sister of an Active Duty Marine, and the daughter of a Vietnam Era Veteran.

Dozens of tents and makeshift camps dot the grounds at Diamond Hill, where everything from teeth cleanings to legal services and a local , traffic tribunals are set up. Counselors for mental health and substance abuse are also available to veterans, along with morale and welfare and community involvement experts. There is also access to care packages, clothing, haircuts and yoga for veterans. Personnel from social and financial agencies, including National Grid representatives are on hand to share utility assistance and information..

While National Grid employees help set up tents, run electricity to the medical and dental tents and string up lights, George Maerkle is once again taking the lead helping to organize National Grid’s Veteran’s Employee Resource Group (VERG). A disabled veteran himself, this project is near and dear to his heart.

“Our Veterans sacrifice so much,” Maerkle said. “Volunteering for this is the least we can do. We want our Veterans to know that we are here with you, we are here for you and we are here to help you out.”

Rhode Island has nearly 70,000 veterans and the push to bring them services is popular.

National Grid’s Sean McGovern, an activeVERG member has also participated in the  event. “This is one of our largest volunteering efforts during the year. In fact, we often have more people looking to volunteer than needed.  I think that speaks volumes about how people feel about this event and Operation Stand Down RI.”

Roughly 500 veterans were expected to take part in Stand Down and that means a lot of meals to cook. For veteran and volunteer Mike Heroux, it’s a labor of love. Heroux works the Rhode Island National Guard as the food program manager. For eleven years he’s been cooking up hot meals for the battle buddies that gather at Diamond Hill.

“I’ll be making 400 servings of chicken stir-fry for lunch on Friday,” Heroux said. That’s just the beginning. He plans to cook 1,800 breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the veterans over the weekend.

“It’s kind of like a family,” said Heroux. “I see some of the ones I served with and others that are here year after year. Not all of them are homeless, they just need help.”


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