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Joining me at Working Wardrobes' VetNet Nite on board the USS Iowa were VetNet's Founder and Executive Director Harry Humphries, Working Wardrobes' Founder and CEO Jerri Rosen, and my husband and Air Force veteran Doug Bunce

Joining me at Working Wardrobes’ VetNet Nite on board the USS Iowa were VetNet’s Co-Founder and Executive Director Harry Humphries, Working Wardrobes’ Founder and CEO Jerri Rosen, and my husband and Air Force veteran Doug Bunce

The Working Wardrobes VetNet Nite was quite something! Not only was it held on the historic Battleship USS Iowa in San Pedro harbor, but the 500 guests were also treated to a stunning water show by the Los Angeles Fire Department and a fantastic parachute jump by a group of former Navy SEALs, who landed on both sides of the battleship while waving giant U.S. and VetNet flags on their descent. There was even a group of aerialists doing amazing feats on the battleship’s rigging.

My husband Doug, an Air Force veteran, was one among many to receive a Veterans Service Flag Pin as we arrived. Guests enjoyed the exclusive behind-the-scenes battleship tours, led by veteran volunteers, who enjoyed talking about its designation as the “world’s greatest naval ship,” due to her big guns, heavy armor, fast speed, longevity, and modernization. Doug and I are history buffs and have read a lot about World War II’s Pacific War. Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Hulsey commanded the Pacific fleet, and the Time magazine cover photo of Hulsey was placed in the Admiral’s Chair on the ship’s Admiral’s Bridge (see photo).

I met Wilbur Richardson during the cocktail reception. He stood out in that he was wearing an Army uniform (see his photo). He told me he served in the Army Air Corps (forerunner to the U.S. Air Force) during WWII. “I flew 30 missions over Germany,” he said, “and was seriously injured on the last mission.” He said he received a Purple Heart for his service.

VetNet Co-Founder and Executive Director Harry Humphries welcomed everyone for dinner on the ship’s fantail, where the tables were festively decorated in red, white and blue and an honor guard from Cal State Long Beach posted the colors and Lisa Garisto sang a spirited National Anthem. Humphries, who I found out is a high-decorated former Navy SEAL and currently serves as a consultant and actor on Hollywood films, had a chance meeting with Working Wardrobes’ dynamic Founder/CEO Jerri Rosen in 2011, and VetNet was born. Humphries said that since its launch, VetNet has provided assistance to more than 600 veterans, “and is on track to serve more than 500 veterans with unemployment services this year alone,” he concluded. Rosen, who spoke next, said, “Opening our doors to the veterans has been the most fulfilling work we’ve done at Working Wardrobes in its 24 years.”

Humphries introduced Vice Admiral Joseph D. “Joe” Kernan, US Navy (Ret) and his wife Jan, who he dubbed “the power couple.” Both of them praised Humphries for establishing VetNet and “caring for our vets,” as Joe put it. “They don’t want hand-outs,” Jan said. “They want to provide for their families.” A special ceremony to honor the 2014 VetNet Champions was held, which included The Boeing Company, represented by VP of Business Development Bruce Chesley, Wells Fargo Bank, represented by Regional VP of the Wells Fargo Foundation Jack Toan, and Humphries himself. They were all lauded for their support and dedication to VetNet and local Southern California veterans.

Mikal Vega, Wounded Warrior member and NetVet advocate, spoke glowingly about the Working Warerobes program, but it was left to Navy combat disabled veteran and VetNet graduate Robert Venable to really bring the message home. “Today, I am fully employed and able to pay it forward to help veterans who are in the same situation that I was. I will forever honor VetNet and Working Wardrobes for the services they provided me. Thanks to them, I can stand here and say, ‘I got the job!'”

Army veteran Yolanda Shelton touched hearts sharing that she was raising two children and trying to find a job when she said, “I was down to $7.00 with no room, no food and no help.” That is when she met Jerri Rosen and began receiving help from Working Wardrobes’ VetNet program. “They are awesome!” she said.

The live auction, revved up by auctioneer Jim Nye, saw guests bidding on skydiving with the former Navy SEALs who performed earlier in the evening, a mountain bike adventure for two on bikes from Trail’s End Cycling Center in Santa Ana, a month of aerialist classes learning Cirque du Soleil-type exercises on trapeze, silks, etc. by Aerial Fitness Orange County in Costa Mesa, and a Wienerschnitzel’s Weiner Wagon Party for 50 guests. How’s that for unusual auction items?!

Among those making it all happen were event chair Catherine Humphries (yes, Harry’s wife!) and her committee, which included some of my dear friends, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Barbara Eidson and Lauri Mendenhall. Working Wardrobes board chair Kim Shepherd acknowledged the board for their support, as well as the event sponsors.

Never fear, the night was not over! The Swing Cats Big Band performed some awesome swing music, which some very talented young dancers jiving to it, and The Bluesettes trio, reminiscent of the Andrew Sisters’ famous swing and boogie-woogie style, found guests toe-tapping away. The best news? More than $285,000 was realized in net proceeds to sustain VetNet’s efforts in providing comprehensive case management services to veterans who lack financial resources and skills to return to the job market.

Pssst….as guests departed down the long gangplank for their cars, they were greeted by the cutest Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck offering cups of the delicious fare.

Selected photos by Talia Effman

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