Wounded Marines help spruce up veterans’ home

Master Sgt. William Pieczarka moves dirt to a planter box as he and fellow members of the Wounded Warrior Battalion West. (Hayne Palmour IV / For The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

A temporary home for veterans in Oceanside looks a little nicer following a Thursday visit from some active-duty Camp Pendleton Marines who spruced up the old apartment building with planters, fencing, a canopy and new flag pole.

As he took a break from hammering, one of the volunteers said he was getting something meaningful in return for his work.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Brett Tate, 36, about a day of service he and about a dozen other members of the Wounded Warrior Battalion West performed at the apartment building Interfaith Community Services runs for veterans.

“The older veterans pass down information, knowledge, to us,” he said. “It’s truly an amazing experience. We’ll talk with them and work with them all throughout the day.”

Tate, who plans to transition out of the Marine Corps after serving 16 years, has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas, and said he is recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He has been with the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton since January.

Adriana Macias, transition program manager with the battalion, said there are 300 members in the Camp Pendleton organization, which is part of a larger regiment that includes an East Coast battalion in Virginia. Marines and sailors in the battalion have severe injuries, including physical, mental and emotional injuries, she said.

Macias said the idea of doing a day of service with Interfaith Community Services came about from a conversation she had with the battalion commanding officer, Lt. Col. Rebecca Harvey.

“Myself and the commanding officer were talking about giving back to the community and volunteering to kind of help reintroduce our active-duty Marines to the community,” she said.

Macias previously had worked at Interfaith, an Escondido-based nonprofit that helps people experiencing or facing homelessness. Among the 75 programs at the nonprofit are several focused on helping veterans, including the 64-bed housing program on Division Street in Oceanside the battalion visited Thursday.

Curtis Winfrey, who runs programs at the apartment, said some clients are in Interfaith’s supportive service program, where they can stay up to two years and get help with addictions, mental health issues and find other services. Others at the apartment are in the bridge housing program, which provides a 90-day stay and is intended as a bridge between homelessness and stable housing.

The common area alongside the two-story building was in need of an upgrade, and volunteers from the battalion spent the morning at work. Volunteers divided into crews that tackled different projects, with some installing a new wooden barricade to cover a chain link fence while others erected a canopy for shade or installed planters. One team replaced a telescopic flag pole with a more traditional pole with ropes and pulleys.

Winfrey said some residents had asked if they could have daily flag-raising ceremonies, but the telescopic was too difficult for some of the residents to operate, as it required collapsing and extending the pole.

Macias said with the first day of service complete, she hopes the battalion will continue to do more projects with Interfaith or other organizations.

“We will go anywhere we’re needed,” she said. “This was near and dear to my heart because I came from Interfaith, so we decided to come here first, but they also have family housing units and so many other programs.”

Speaking to volunteers and residents before the project began, Winfrey found a moving way to describe the event.

“It’s one generation of veterans reaching back to the next generation of veterans,” he said. “This truly represents what’s best about America.”


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