We STILL want you

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
It was 1981 when 17-year-old Steven Comstock joined the Marine Corps, eager to receive training that would lead him down the path of honor, courage and commitment.

Twenty-nine years later, on Dec. 23, Mr. Comstock received a different kind of gift: clothing donated by Operation H.U.G.S.S. (Hats, Undergarments, Gloves, Socks and Scarves), a program where Ellsworth Air Force Base Airmen donated items to 43 homeless veterans in Rapid City, S.D.

"This is for veterans, the people who came before us," said Master Sgt. David Wells, the 28th Munitions Squadron first sergeant and founder of Operation H.U.G.S.S. "They have served their country and done their time. This is our chance to give something back to them."

For five years, Operation H.U.G.S.S. has partnered with the Cornerstone Rescue Mission of Rapid City, S.D. to provide homeless veterans with warm clothing to last throughout the cold winter season. Veterans, like Mr. Comstock, who have fallen on hard times, are able to find safety, shelter and a chance to regain control of their lives with Cornerstone.

"I heard about Cornerstone through word of mouth," he said. "I came by and have received a great deal of support to help me get back on my feet."

After his time in the military, Mr. Comstock spent 25 years as an electrician, before falling on hard times. He said his life was in a downward spiral well before he became homeless.

"I started drinking real hard and lost my job," he said. "Sometimes you wake up sooner rather than later. It just took me a little bit longer to realize what I was doing. But, you eventually just come to a point where you realize life goes on."

Mr. Comstock said the hardest part has been dealing with the frustration of going from being a military veteran and commercial electrician to being homeless. However, he views the support he receives from the Cornerstone Rescue Mission and programs like Operation H.U.G.S.S. as chances to get back on his feet.

"A lot of veterans are embarrassed about coming in here," he said. "I know I was. I think that's why a lot of them won't reach out and take a helping hand when it's offered."

Mr. Comstock said that while Operation H.U.G.S.S. has been a generous partner during the holidays, other people tend to prejudge the homeless.

"People sometimes look down on you like you're a failure," he said. "They only see 'resident of Cornerstone Rescue Mission' on the job application. They don't see me."

Mr. Comstock said he and lot of other homeless veterans are in this situation because they were unable to trust their friends and family enough to talk about the problems they were having.

"A lot of people don't understand the things we have gone through," he said. "The only person who might understand is the guy who was standing next to you when it happened. No matter what you look like on the outside, it's what is on the inside that has changed."

Looking back on his time with the military, Mr. Comstock said he built a lot of walls around himself based on his experiences.

"I've been carrying a lot of stuff from my time in the service," he said. "It makes it hard to trust people. If I could go back, I would tell myself not to keep everything bottled up inside. But, I wouldn't take away any of my time with the military, even if I could go back and change things. There's a camaraderie there that people who haven't suffered through it, or experienced it, can ever understand."

Retired Master Sgt. Jim Goodrich, a former first sergeant and the coordinator for the Cornerstone Rescue Mission veteran outreach program, said Mr. Comstock's story is shared by many of the 43 veterans currently living at Cornerstone.

"People make odd assumptions about homeless veterans," he said. "They aren't a bunch of drunks and derelicts lying around. These are very good men, who, for one reason or another, have run into hard times. It's a challenge to encourage and support them in getting back on their feet, but it's a fight we are determined to win."