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Veterans won’t go hungry at two free events

After leaving active-duty life in the military, veterans today have an array of benefits covering many aspects of their lives at their disposal. Probably the best known are benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But there are many public events that provide additional benefits to show appreciation for the work and sacrifices made by those who serve. Two such events are upcoming locally.

Laura Coleman and her group has proclaimed Sept. 14 at Craig Ranch Regional Park in North Las Vegas as Veterans Appreciation Day.

“About seven years ago North Las Vegas City Councilman Richard Cherchio and I got together and we decided it was time at this beautiful park to do an event honoring not just our military, but also our first responders. So we chose the second Saturday in September to do this.”

Coleman said they wanted to produce a free event that would not only honor patriots but also “a wonderful fun day for them and their families.” She said that families sacrifice just as much as their relatives who are in the military.

The event takes place in the northeast area of the park. Firefighters, police officers, paramedics and all military will be honored. There will be live music and vendors offering food and merchandise. Veterans are encouraged to show their official ID and receive a colored wrist band that entitles them to a free lunch at select food booths.

But it’s more than just food. The event also provides support and assistance to veterans including job connections, education and relocation information and transition details for those moving from active duty to civilian life. Many major and smaller corporations have lined up to provide sponsorships. “Over 90 vendors will be a part of the event,” Coleman said.

She added that most major veterans organizations will have representation at the park. But attendees do not have to be veterans to participate. “We encourage our civilian population to come out. Because this is an opportunity for the civilian population to say ‘Thank you for your service.’ And it’s a wonderful opportunity for those with small children to see who is serving our country and keeping us safe.”

She added that she doesn’t want to have families standing in line for hamburgers and hot dogs so she has arranged for high school ROTC volunteers to escort families to tables “and they will bring the food to them.” Individuals who might find it difficult to walk from their parked cars can access courtesy golf carts and be driven to the action by volunteers.

For more details, visit http://nlvevents4military.org or call 702-321-1075.

If that attraction doesn’t offer enough food, not to worry. The annual Greek Food Festival is being held Sept. 28-29 on the grounds of John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 53200 El Camino Road, Las Vegas. Though not a veterans event specifically, there is a large veterans appreciation connection on several levels. It begins with the manager of the event, Gus Flangas, an Ely, Nevada, native who was an Army aviator for 10 years. Flangas said when he was a senior in college, “somebody convinced me to take a test. I was actually on my way to the gym to play basketball, and I didn’t want to take a test. But the guy insisted on it, an aptitude skills test. I took it, and two weeks later I had orders to report to flight school.”

He served for the most part on the edge of the East German border during the Cold War. He was a helicopter pilot in the 11th Armor Cavalry.

After his time in Germany, Flangas returned to Nevada and moved to Las Vegas, taking up where he left off promoting the food festival, which began in 1973 at the old Stardust Hotel. Today, the festival helps veterans in several ways. Each year at least one veterans organization is invited to set up an information booth at the event and hand out information about government benefits. And while there is an admission fee for non-vets, all active duty, retired military and first responders (and their families) can show their ID and enter the fest at no charge.

Flangas said that attendees can dive in to taramasalata, classic dips such as tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic), melitzanosalata (aubergine), and fava (creamy split pea purée.) And don’t forget dolmades, moussaka, grilled meat, fresh fish, courgette balls and octopus.

In addition to helping veterans, there will be a raffle with first prize being a brand-new Mercedes automobile.

“We take 10 percent of all proceeds received from the raffle and we donate to two separate charities. One is the Johnny Christopher Foundation, which is funded by (magician) Criss Angel in honor of his son to help find a cure for children’s cancer. And the other is to help suicide prevention.”

For more details, go to http:/www.lvgff.com or call 702-221-8245.

It must be said for anyone who has been in the service, the menu at the Greek Food Festival is a long way from military chow. What’s more, there’s no marching, saluting or shooting required. As Greeks are prone to say when celebrating, “Opa!” See you there.

Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1 FM.

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