Veterans can connect at Public Library
Libraries are the pillars that lift up a community, and the Santa Barbara Public Library just launched a program to uplift local veterans.
The program, called Veterans Connect @ the Library, will operate out of the corner of the Central Library’s first floor as the library joined the Santa Barbara VetNet group. This corner will be an additional access point for veterans and their families to gather information and resources regarding health care, affordable housing and employment.
To assist veterans and their families through any process regarding the matters, a veterans service representative will have open office hours from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of every month at the Central Library, 40 E. Anapamu St. With more than 22,000 veterans who call Santa Barbara County home, this corner of the library will serve those who have served for the United States.
How is the program being funded? In 2018, the Santa Barbara Public Library was awarded a Veterans Connect grant through the California State Library that is supported in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the Library Services and Technology Act.
The grand opening Friday gathered more than 40 people, including Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, who is a veteran himself; state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Das Williams; and Santa Barbara City Councilmen Oscar Guttierrez and Jason Dominguez.
Most eyes, ears and hearts, however, were on Edward Rutherford and Kyle Shipe, two veterans who shared some of their experiences through stories.
Mr. Rutherford, who served in the Marine Corps and now studies sociology at UCSB — presented his story, titled “Honey Truck,” first.
“I didn’t have much contact with those not serving in the Marine Corps while in deployment, but one person who remains in my memory is the man from the honey truck. The honey truck was the name given to the large truck that showed up a few times a week in order to pump the waste out of the porta-potties since running water wasn’t available in our outpost in Afghanistan.
“Each time the man arrived, i would have to pat him down and question him. He was a very small, gay man that tried countless times to talk with me, winking at me and asking when we would hang out and have fun together. His constant attempts to flirt with me wore me down and soured my feelings toward him at first. I truly dreaded him showing up each day, therefore I paid him as little attention as I could and just tried to get my job done as soon as he could start his.
“I’ve never had a weak stomach, but unless you’ve seen the remains of deployment food pumped through a clear pipe, you wouldn’t understand how hard it was to be around him while he completed his job. I would have to stand by and watch him as he, you know, finished, and then escort him off the base. S*** would get everywhere — inside clothes, on arms, covering the ground — and then he would spray it all down with a pressure washer.
“The job was dirty enough as is, but the lack of proper uniform, equipment and everything else that you would expect made it even worse. The smell, a mix of dirty water and rotting human waste, permanently stains the walls of my brain. I remember wondering how someone could wake up in the morning and have the strength to get out of bed, knowing full well what his whole day entailed. I thought that I was mentally strong, yet as I watched this man each day, my respect and admiration grew for him. I stood in awe of his ability to withstand and push beyond what I thought was humanly capable.
“I never got his name, never learned any details about his life, but I’ve tried to imagine the circumstances that had driven him to persist in this line of work. Surely, there had to be better jobs out there. Did he have family? Did the job pay well? How did he even start in his line of work? I learned many things from this man that I barely knew and remained a mystery to me. He taught me to be humble in all situations and not to judge people based on their line of work.
“Often when my life, you know, has me feeling overwhelmed … I sit back and I think of that Afghan man, and he reminds me just what humans are capable of living through. While there are others in the world who might have more privilege than I, I remember that there’s always someone whose challenges are far greater than mine. This in turn allows me to stand tall in the face of life’s struggles, knowing full well it could always be worse. Life may not be as sweet as honey, but it will never be unsavory as the honey truck.”
Mr. Shipe — who served in the U.S. Army and studied history at UCSB — followed with his story “Joining the Army.”
“ ‘That’s probably a good idea,’ ” the judge said to me when I handed him the letter from the Army recruiter asking for leniency so that I could enlist. “ ‘Your enlistment in the military would benefit the community,’ ” he continued.
“At the time, I thought that was a really cool thing to hear in a courtroom. A few months later, when I thought more deeply about his words, I realized what the judge had meant. My hometown of Santa Cruz, California, would benefit from my leaving, wherever I might be sent. It was clear that I was out of harmony with my community and that I needed a timeout of sorts. It was January 2010, and I had graduated from high school six months earlier. Though I never fancied myself a criminal, I was cultivating a very respectable rap sheet for someone who had just legally become an adult. Already I’d been in court four times since I’d graduated.
“The word ‘potential’ had been floating around me since I was a child, but its meaning had changed throughout the years, from ‘He has a bright future’ to ‘What went wrong?’
“When I began flirting with the idea of joining the military, I was living at home and playing baseball at the local junior college, having recently lost a scholarship to the University of Oregon. Late one night, I decided to check out the Marine Corps website. ‘The Few, the Proud’ mantra seemed pretty badass, and I liked the idea of an anchor and globe tattoo on my forearm. I figured that if I couldn’t play D-1 baseball, being a warrior was the next best thing.
“After I filled out some basic information on the website, a recruiter called me the next day, eager to get me to come in to see him. I went in, heard what he had to say, and walked out of his office with some pamphlets, feeling unimpressed by his presentation and giving little thought to enlisting. Later that night, I totaled my car and spent the night in jail.
“A couple of days later I went back to the same recruiter and told him the good news — I was ready to join. After explaining what happened, he looked at me as if I were a sewer rat and advised that maybe the Army would still be interested. ‘Damn,’ I thought. ‘Not even the Marine Corps wants me.’ :I was devastated that even my backup plan had fallen through.
“I walked across the hall to the Army recruiting station, figuring they would be willing to pick up the Marine Corps’ scraps, and saw some guy looking at me like he was expecting me and I was right on time. I told him about my most recent arrest, and he assured me that it wasn’t an issue, that the Marine Corps was stuck up and their uniforms were the only thing cool about them. I’d do the same stuff in the Army but with better equipment. When I called my dad later that day to tell him that I had gotten arrested again, but that it was all good, because I was joining the Army, in a worn-out, emotionless voice he said, ‘That’s probably a good idea.’ ”