News: Paying it forward: ‘Kings of Battle’ Marines clean up homeless veterans shelter
Story by Cpl. Reece Lodder
WAIANAE, Hawaii -- Marines are imbued with a willingness to serve — from the time they swear an oath to defend their country to the time they join the fight overseas.
They make sacrifices to protect their families and friends, the men and women to their left and right, and honor those who served before them. Twenty Marines recently volunteered to help those who served the country and lost so much, to try to make a difference in their lives.
Only hours before departing on their winter holiday leave, communications Marines with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, paid their blessings forward by cleaning up a homeless veterans shelter — the Waianae Civic Center — here, Dec. 17.
“If I was ever put in a situation where I lost everything and didn’t have anything left, I think it’d be something else to see a group of young Marines come and take some of their own time to help me,” said Cpl. Michael Losi, a radio operator with Headquarters Company, 1/12.
After completing tours to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009, Losi is nearing the end of his enlistment. He will soon return home to Boston to pursue firefighting, but said he wanted to finish his time in the Marine Corps by giving back.
Growing up in Boston’s Hyde Park Town, Losi learned about service from his parents. Over the past seven years, his parents have raised $135,000 for a homeless veterans shelter in Boston.
Losi contacted the center’s staff and volunteered to travel to Waianae and clean up the grounds of the center with 19 other Marines from his unit.
When they arrived, the Marines got busy cleaning the grounds. They split up into teams, pulling weeds along fence lines, tearing vines off of chain-link fences and painting lines in the parking lot.
“We’re trying to make a difference out here,” said Cpl. Antonio Garcia, a wireman with Headquarters Company, 1/12. “Whether it’s small or big, we’re making a difference in a positive way.”
The Chicago native said veterans are often forgotten, so the Marines volunteered to show there are still people thinking about them.
According to Rita Martin, the center’s resident manager, there are more than 200,000 homeless veterans in the U.S.
The center, opened in 2007 by Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, is operated by the United States Veterans Initiative, the nation’s largest non-profit provider of services to veterans facing challenges in their transition to civilian life. It provides housing and transitional programs for approximately 275 people.
“There’s so much need on the island” to help homeless veterans, Martin said. She said another center at Barbers Point houses homeless singles, but the Waianae Civic Center is the first to service both homeless veterans and their families.
“Our staff feels very proud our Marines are here to help,” Martin said. “We owe a lot to our service members, and we want to continue to serve our veterans in any way we can.”
In spring 2011, the Marines of 1/12 are set to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Nonetheless, in the midst of their intensive pre-deployment training, they chose to dedicate their time to a cause other than their own.
Master Sgt. Rodney Harriss, battalion communication chief, 1/12, said volunteering to clean up the shelter was an important break from being “consumed by everyday Marine life.”
Growing up in “humble beginnings” in Cleveland, Harriss said, “We’re taking what we’ve been blessed with and paying it forward.”