Veterans Club holding new and like new clothing drive for Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy

Many student veterans connected to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan
Veterans Club President Eric Gritzmacher collects items donated to help Afghan evacuees at one of two bins in the UW-Stout Memorial Student Center. The university Veterans Club is sponsoring the drive to collect new or like new clothing until Monday, Nov.
November 1, 2021

University of Wisconsin-Stout Veterans Club President Eric Gritzmacher believes in the power of helping each other.

Gritzmacher and other members of the club have started a clothing drive to help Afghanistan refugees restart their lives. Some 13,000 Afghan evacuees are at Fort McCoy, a western Wisconsin military base, after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

New and like new clothing is being collected at the Memorial Student Center in bins inside the Involvement Center and Stoutfitters, the university bookstore. The bins will be up until Monday, Nov. 8. Then the clothing will be taken to the Methodist Church in Menomonie and transported to Fort McCoy.

At Fort McCoy, some of the refugees showed up with only the clothing they were wearing when they were evacuated to escape Taliban forces in August. They are awaiting resettlement in communities across the nation, according to media reports.

Items most in need are undergarments, shoes and winter clothing for men, women and children of all ages, Gritzmacher said.

“If we don’t help each other, we are abdicating one of the fundamental human duties of empathy and understanding and support for each other,” said Gritzmacher, a junior majoring in computer science, who is originally from Belvidere, Ill. “We are all in this together.”

Chris Engen photo
Chris Engen photo / UW-Stout photo

Vets Club members dedicated themselves to supporting and protecting civilians at home and abroad, and this is part of that promise, he added. The club has 42 members.

Gritzmacher, a Gunner’s Mate 2nd class, which is equivalent to a sergeant in other military branches, served for four years in the U.S. Navy from 2004 to 2008 with two tours in Iraq and one in Somalia.

The Wisconsin winter will be difficult for Afghanis who are used to warmer weather, making winter clothing a need for them, Gritzmacher said.

“I can remember looking back and 120 to 130 degree days and coming back home in the summer and I had to wear a coat,” said Gritzmacher, who is the comedy event director for Blue Devil Productions on campus.

Chris Engen, UW-Stout’s military education benefits coordinator, said many of the student veterans on campus experienced or were influenced in some way by Operation Enduring Freedom, the title used to refer to the United States’ response to Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent operations against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“This donation drive provides an opportunity to support those who often worked with and alongside the U.S. and our international partners in Afghanistan,” Engen said. “Though no longer in uniform, our veterans often continue to serve their communities and our nation in other ways.”

Veteran Services

Veteran Services at UW-Stout has the Veteran Mentorship Program, which matches student veterans with newer student veterans to help them set and achieve their academic and personal goals.

UW-Stout was the first UW System school to offer the comprehensive peer mentorship program. It is offered through the Mentor Collective platform. Peer-to-peer mentoring is designed to help first-year students build relationships and increase retention and graduation.

The university has a Military and Veteran Resource Center, a dedicated on-campus space for veterans, service members and their families, at 305 Bowman Hall. It serves as a centralized location for veterans to meet, study, relax or participate in veteran-specific activities. Engen’s office is in Bowman Hall room 107 for benefits support.

UW-Stout was named a Best for Vets College in 2020 by the Military Times and a Military Friendly school for 2021-22 by UW-Stout also moved up 18 places to No. 30 among all Midwest universities in the Best Colleges for Veterans ranking by U.S. News and World Report.

The university has a Hall of Heroes installation at the Memorial Student Center honoring students and staff who died in military service to the U.S.

UW-Stout also is part of the Northwoods Battalion Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps with UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls.

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