News: VA facility fittingly named after civil affairs officer and doctor
Story by Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres
LONG BEACH, Calif. – As the nation begins to draw down its forces, more and more veterans will be entering the Veterans Affairs health system. As of Jan. 25, 2012, veterans in Southern California have access to a new, state of the art medical facility now named after a civil affairs soldier who was also, fittingly, a doctor of optometry.
After Maj. Charles Robert Soltes Jr. completed his active duty service in 1999, he became a reserve officer with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion while simultaneously becoming the clinical director at Irvine Vision Institute, a refractive surgery specialty center in Irvine, Calif.
In 2004, Soltes was called upon to help rebuild the medical infrastructure in Mosul, Iraq, as the public health officer with the 426th. He lead a team that included Capt. Ivan Hong who was with Soltes when their convoy was attacked.
“We did a lot of public health missions in Mosul to help the people,” Hong said remembering the day of the IED attack which would take Soltes life. “He was a great guy and a great leader just thinking about him makes me a little emotional,” Hong said.
Maj. Gregory Ulma, deployed with Soltes and had the unenviable task of replacing him.
“I had to replace his position in the public health team and it was then I discovered how much work he had done and what big shoes I had to fill. He was one of the finest human beings and a good friend to all who where around him,” said Ulma.
Soltes’ son, Ryan, 17, was just 10 years old when he lost his father.
“Losing him impacted me greatly. Everyday things that you wouldn’t think of, simple questions that you would ask him, everything that your dad would bestow on you, just wasn’t there, there was a big part of my life missing.” said Ryan, who was one of more than 700 people who showed up to the building dedication, more then what event organizers had expected.
“I think it signifies him, he wanted to help everyone, he lived for that, he wasn’t doing it because someone asked him to do it,” Ryan said. “I think that the hospital just represents him and what he did his whole life.
The Major Charles R. Stoltes Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center was part of a 30-month construction project at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System including seven new buildings housing programs including pharmacy, emergency medicine, primary care, employee education system, human resources, and the new blind rehabilitation center.
Thomas E. Lasser, a retired lieutenant colonel, and a member of the greater Los Angeles USO board of directors, said that this facility was a huge upgrade and will help fill the need the area is beginning to see as we draw down our forces.
“A lot of the VA health system is old, post WWII. There is not only an aging veteran population, but we’ve created a lot of new veterans in the past ten years, instead of the veteran population getting smaller it’s getting bigger,” said Lasser, “The facilities have to keep up with the need, and this facility is one of the most modern on the west coast.