City of Ukiah, California

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Veterans, thank you for serving US!

On this Veteran’s Day, I thought I’d share some stories of local people who have served or are serving in the military, and to remind folks of the excellent resources available for veterans in our community.

As we go about our daily lives here in Ukiah, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to spend every day in an inhospitable desert in a foreign country where we don’t know the language or the allegiances of local people, but are well aware that a wrong move could mean having to fight for our life and the lives of people we care about.

However, some selfless Ukiah natives know exactly what this is like. One is 2008 graduate of Ukiah Redwood Academy, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Aaron Denson who just returned to the United States from Afghanistan.

Aaron’s unit (like many units) was asked to do a nearly impossible job: in his case, to ensure peace in the remote Sangin Province of Afghanistan. Sangin is a rocky desert that is home to members of the Taliban as well as poppy growers, who cultivate and sell opium to fund insurgency efforts. It is also an area known for bomb makers who supply insurgents with Aaron Densonimprovised explosive devices (IEDs).

While serving in this terrible place, two Marines from Aaron’s unit paid the ultimate price, losing their lives in the service of our country. Four other Marines were seriously injured, including two who lost their legs from IEDs. During one of these violent attacks, Aaron showed great courage and took the lead to guide his unit away from danger. In Afghanistan, Aaron and his Marine Corps Unit served with distinction. 

As Aaron adjusts back to life here, another Ukiah native, Gunnar Annis, is traveling to Afghanistan. Gunnar is a 2010 graduate of Ukiah High School; he currently serves as a solider in the Army. Gunnar, who is scheduled to be promoted to sergeant while overseas, will be serving in Afghanistan for the next nine months. Please join me in wishing Gunnar, and all ofour service members currently in Afghanistan, safe travels and a safe return.

Gunnar Annis

Aaron and Gunnar are two shining examples of young people who are willing to not only serve our country, but to lead others and sacrifice themselves. As you might have guessed, I have known Aaron and Gunnar since they were young. I watched them play Little League baseball, volunteer in our community, attend school, and hold part-time jobs. I couldn’t be prouder of them. I know that their parents, and a great many of us in Lake and Mendocino Counties, are proud and grateful for their service to our country.

These young men’s stories are just two of the countless stories of young men and women who choose to serve our country by joining a branch of the armed forces. Last year, 194 young people from Lake and Mendocino Counties joined the armed forces.

It takes serious dedication to commit four or more years in service to our country, and courage to do so in spite of the risk of death or serious injury. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet local recruiters from several branches of the armed forces: Petty Officer McIntyre from the Navy, Sergeant Tobin and Staff Sergeant Kallery from the Army, and Staff Sergeant Galvan from the Marine Corps. From them, I learned that the young men and women who join the military are some of our community’s best.

I learned that getting into the armed services has become a competitive process. For those who wish to serve their country, it is important to plan early. They must have a high school diploma, a clean drug screening, and a clear criminal history check. Joining the armed services is no longer a fallback. It has become a primary path to learn a trade or begin a career.

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps recruiters in Ukiah can help a young person explore potential careers and trades available to them as a member of the armed forces. They can also assist potential recruits in determining whether the armed services are a good fit, and how to prepare to enter the military. 

While many service members are able to take advantage of the excellent benefits available to them in the military, sometimes our returning veterans need assistance after serving. Injuries can be physical or emotional, and those scars can have long lasting effects. Here in Mendocino County, we are lucky to have such broad services to offer our veterans.

The first place a veteran should go is the Mendocino County Veterans Service Office at 405 Observatory Avenue in Ukiah. There, Alice Watkins and her staff can help veterans, their dependents, and their survivors in obtaining benefits from federal, state and local agencies. Their primary purpose is to act as advocates for the veteran community.

The Veterans Service Office also hosts a “Vet-Connect” meeting the third Wednesday of each month at the Veterans Memorial Building on Seminary Avenue. Vet-Connect is open to all veterans, but designed especially for those facing homelessness or hunger. It offers a single one-stop shop for obtaining housing, food stamps, and other community services and resources.

The Veterans Service Office is always looking for volunteer drivers to take veterans to the San Francisco Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital and back. If you’re interested, please contact Alice Watkins. 

Another excellent resource for local veterans is the VA Clinic at 630 Kings Court in Ukiah, where I recently met Clare Friedlander, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Dan Hoffman, their Administrative Officer. They encourage veterans returning home to come into the center and enroll, even if they don’t currently need services.

The Ukiah VA Clinic provides primary health care to more than 3,200 veterans a year and behavioral health/post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) care to approximately 900 veterans a year. The clinic also provides daily transportation to the VA Hospital in San Francisco where veterans can receive more specialized care. For chronically homeless veterans, the Ukiah VA Clinic helps connect them with housing and other services, as well as substance abuse treatment programs when necessary.

Today, more than a million men and women – including our community’s best – are serving in our armed forces. Millions more have served our country in the past with distinction and honor. These brave men and women have put their lives on the line, so that we may freely enjoy ours.

I can’t think of a more selfless gift than to safeguard our country with military service, especially given the risk of death or serious injury.

To those of us who know a Veteran of current member of our armed forces, please find a way to thank the heroes who have given us such a precious gift.

And, to all our Armed Service Heroes – Army, Navy Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines – Thank you for your service, you have given us a gift we can never repay.

Happy Birthday Marines – Semper Fi

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Safety · Professionalism · Community Service