Debbie Austin, center, talks about the Kansas Remembering the Fallen exhibit. Debbie’s son, Shane Austin, was killed in combat in Iraq in 2006. The exhibit commemorates  Kansans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was on display during the Joining Community Forces meeting in Gardner last week. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

Debbie Austin, center, talks about the Kansas Remembering the Fallen exhibit. Debbie’s son, Shane Austin, was killed in combat in Iraq in 2006. The exhibit commemorates Kansans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was on display during the Joining Community Forces meeting in Gardner last week. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

Danedri Thompson
[email protected]
They came from as far as Riley County and as near as Gardner with one goal – to form a network in support of military service members and veterans.
Joining Community Forces, a loosely-affiliated group of organizations and service providers, met in Gardner on July 21. Approximately 30 representing dozens of organizations and services gathered at the American Legion in Gardner. The focus of the meeting was primarily networking as individuals hoped to learn how they could connect veterans, military service members and their families to variety of services.
Tammy Alsup, Kansas National Guard family assistance specialist, organized the meeting. She organizes a similar meeting every few months. Typically, the meetings are hosted at her office at a National Guard Armory in Lenexa, but she decided to take the networking opportunity to different communities in hopes of reaching different organizations and individuals. Gardner is the first community to host a meeting.
Major Charles Lunkwitz serves in the National Guard assisting service members transition into the civilian world. He said there are a lot of services available, but that they don’t necessarily communicate with one another.
“We’re here and we’re talking, but are we actually talking,” he asked.
During the three-hour morning meeting, guests introduced themselves and gave brief statements about the nature of their organizations. Guests also had the opportunity to view a Kansas Remember the Fallen exhibit, a wall commemorating service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Though the primary focus was assisting military families, many of the organizations also assist civilians. For example, a representative from United Way told the group that any individual can dial 2-1-1 from their phone and be connected with groups or organizations that can assist a variety of community resources.
Gardner Mayor Chris Morrow welcomed the group and suggested that organizations keep in touch with their city officials.
“We may be able to help,” Morrow said.