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Two years ago, on a Temecula street, military wife Stephanie McKay used her best Pinterest skills to paint a red, white, and blue American flag. Her then nineteen month old son, Logan, got the honor of putting hand-print stars on the square of blue. The banner reads, “Welcome Home Sgt. McKay” in honor of her husband’s return home from a year of duty in Afghanistan.
“Having Steve come home right before Memorial Day really means something. To all of the wives from his unit.” McKay said. “So many people look at (Memorial Day) as just another day off. A day to hang out with friends, and it should be. But, most people forget the past, and the sacrifices that were and are still being made for our freedoms.”
Her husband comes from a long military history, with Marine father currently serving at the Pentagon, and one sister stationed in Japan, and another currently in boot camp at Perris Island. “With Steve, the military is family. He has a strong sense of needing to help his country.” McKay said, easily wrangling her son. “He’s been to Iraq twice, but this was his first tour in Afghanistan, and his first time away since Logan was born.”
Modern conveniences such as Skype, allow this family to stay together even with the distance, and the dangers and challenges of war “With Logan growing and changing, we had Skype so Steve could sit ‘at the table’ with us. But, I noticed he was more talkative over the phone. I asked him why, and Steve said he just likes to watch us, together.”McKay said, smiling at Logan and anxiously awaiting Steve’s return.
Home now, for two years, the McKays have another son, and more to celebrate.
Still, soldiers returning from combat zones don’t just come home. They are often sent to decompression, to learn how to deal with the challenges and changes that come with being away. “I’m relieved that he’s on U.S. soil, and that he’s safe.” Mckay said. “I am reminded of a quote that we love, McKay said:
“’A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America ’ for any amount, up to and including their life.’”
When you call the Temecula Vet Center, you’re instantly aware that you’re being served by a member of the U.S. Military. Indeed, the organization is staffed by former soldiers, many in work-study programs.
Southern California has a unique population of combat veterans, and the post 9/11 military is provided with an array of solutions such as the Temecula Vet Center. Located north of the Promenade Temecula Mall, in the Ynez business complex, they serve combat veterans, whether active duty or retired. Their mission: to restore normalcy to their lives, and build a new life in the world once returned from foreign shores.
The Temecula Vet Center aids all combat veterans, seeing about 300 individuals and families a week. Roughly one-third of their clients served in Afghanistan, Iraq, or both. “When a soldier leaves for a combat zone, their world view changes. It has to.” said Doug Allmen, then Team Leader of the Temecula Vet Center for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. “Even people at the highest level of service are recognizing that readjustment and decompression is necessary. It’s cutting through the stigma.”
“Combat veterans need time to readjust to being in the world,” Allmen said. “You take a family unit, send one member off into a combat zone, while the rest of the family goes on with their lives, then a year later return that individual into that unit, there’s often difficulty adjusting. For everyone, including spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, and parents. We’re here to help.” Allmen said.
So, remember, this Memorial Day, to say “Thank you” to a member of our armed forces, past, or present. Consider the sacrifices families make each and every day, and hold your family a bit tighter, for someone waiting for their loved ones to return from overseas.
The Temecula Vet Center is located: 40935 County Center Drive, Suite A, Temecula, CA 92591
Or call: 951-302-4849
Long Distance: 877-927-8387