It's been several days since I posted, and it is due in large part to Stand Down. It is always such an emotionally charged event for everyone involved, and this year was no less different. The flavor and tone of Stand Down changes each year, and it changes from day to day.

I write to you as jets, helicopters, and other flying machines roar over our apartment. Apparently, they are enacting some kind of aerial war games, and they are flying lower than usual, which is shaking the windows and rattling the doors. I remember days like these when I was a child, living in Harper Lake, where the jets and land speed vehicles would defy gravity and sound barriers like it was nobody's business.

I'm a bit off track, which tends to happen following Stand Down. During those three days, time stops, and I forgot how much time had really passed when I returned to work on Monday and saw that my inbox was full and remembered that I needed to throw myself back into the swing of things.

First things first, though, Stand Down 2012 was an exceptional year! One of our regular Foxtrot guys, B, finally fessed up to feeling more humble than years previous and put in the effort and emotional upheaval of convincing VVSD to take him on (after writing an essay and losing his identification card, which also tracks his use of services and commitment to getting sober), and his hard work paid off - he got in! Out of our 41 tent denizens, we had an additional three men find placement in transitional/sober living houses. Let me tell you, those numbers are big for a single tent! One of our guys even went up to give his testimony before graduation, and we were all there to cheer him on, loud and proud of the power of our Foxtrot group.

Stand Down clocked in over 1,050 participants this year, and several hundred volunteers, including active duty Navy, Marines, and Army. Several of our guys were first-timers, and they admitted to catching the Stand Down bug. One young Navy Reservist, J, stuck by our tent all day on Friday, and whenever he saw a problem or a person in need, he was there before you even realized he had moved. As a tent leader group, we plan to do him a solid and write a letter of appreciation/recommendation and mail it to his CO.

Another great thing about this year is that I was able to convince Jeff to come in for a day and chat with the veterans. He bonded with several of them, and they all gave him great pointers for how to survive basic training and how to advance his military career with integrity and alacrity. For me, it was just neat to watch him be so engrossed and curious about the process and the people.

It was such a moving weekend, and by the end, several of our guys didn't want to leave. Another of our Foxtrot members, who goes by the nickname of Chuck and volunteers every year to be Squadron Leader for the tent when the Tent Leaders go home for the evening, was so impacted by Stand Down this year that he quietly stole away after graduation and photographs. I know this year was tough for him (and heartbreaking for us tent leaders), and I am hoping that he will use that as motivation to move forward and come back ready next year, or even come back as a volunteer.

I met so many wonderful people this year who were delightfully pleasant, humorous, intelligent, savvy...the list of positive descriptors goes on and on. I got to embrace many of the guys I have seen years previous and to meet some new participants that I know made Stand Down a better place, and Foxtrot a better living quarters for our brief weekend together. I can only hope that I will see them again as volunteers, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.

My favorite moment? After three days of intense conversations about his travels around the globe, his success as a commanding officer, and the experiences he had survived, one of our former Marines gave me a key chain with his native country of Panama emblazoned on it. It already has a new home on my key chain, and I think I will cherish it forever.