O’odham Veterans Celebration Honors Veterans with Drive-thru Stand Down

Kyle Knox

Gila River Indian News


On Saturday, Oct. 16, veterans and families lined up at the Sacaton fairgrounds to receive gifts and honors as part of this year’s O’odham Veterans Celebration (OVC) “Stand Down” event. From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., OVC distributed food relief packages, PPE, and military supplies to all veterans in attendance.


“Our main purpose is to serve the Native veterans because sometimes we get left out of services,” said Douglas Juan, District 5, U.S. Army veteran and the Chairman of Gila River O’odham Veterans. “So we’re trying to build that up for our Native Veterans, starting in August at different sites with different events until November.”


This year, the stand down was held drive-thru style for item distribution, with booths from local veterans’ groups also lining the driveway to provide incentives and program information. In addition, GRIC Veterans and Family Services and U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs Native American Program from Tucson Arizona, staff set-up booths. They provided updates on new programming and services available for all to utilize.


Over the years, OVC has become inclusive of all O’odham sister tribes. OVC invites its veterans to be a part of their stand-downs while also assisting and hosting similar events in their communities. 


“We came on board with the OVC to reach out and get more resources. It’s a really great program to be a part of,” said Jacob Trevino with the Tohono O’odham Veterans Affairs Program and a retired U.S. Air Force serviceman. “It’s amazing and an extreme honor to help these veterans, give them these resources and check in with them. The more veterans that come out the better because we get more outreach, and they know we’re here for them.”


To date, their stand down events have become renowned in the region. Recently, the OVC was tasked to provide technical assistance with similar distribution events as far as Navajo Mountain near the Arizona and Utah border on the Navajo Nation. For that event, they secured supplies for 30 veteran families.


Before the pandemic, the O’odham Veterans Celebration served as a gathering place for veterans and their families to learn more about the services afforded to them. The event also allows veterans to gather in a unique setting that acknowledges their service and builds on the camraderie often found among one another.


“We do anything we can to support our veterans through events like this, and it makes me feel good because veterans are the ones who fought for our freedom,” said Doreen Atkinson-Juan, OVC Secretary, who coordinated much of the day’s resources and supplies. Atkinson-Juan said she was thrilled with the turnout.


With Veteran’s Day on the horizon, OVC plans to host a similar distribution event to mark the occasion. The Christmas holiday will provide another opportunity for programming with gifts in addition to the stand down supplies the recent event provided.