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Military Outreach Center bridges survivors, services

STAFF WRITER

BARSTOW • On Barstow Road, the Military Connection and Resource Center is a gathering place and reserve for active duty service members, veterans and their families.

At least that’s the goal, once renovating and updating the building is finished.

Providing financial and emotional support, the center is hoping to become especially available to Gold Star Families, those who have lost a loved one that served honorably and was either killed in action or passed away.

The building will soon hold a room of remembrance dedicated to service members killed in action with photos of the fallen, along with family counseling services and an updated children’s playroom, according to Outreach Program Coordinator Corinna Wittig.

Originally donated by the city of Barstow, the building is the only designated in all of California for these type of resources, besides what is available on base according to Wittig.

Remodeling and reorganizing is underway, but a lack of funds is an obstacle. Recently donated couches sit in the entry room set up like a living room but the center is currently working on garnering additional donations to make it a more inviting destination, Project Coordinator Rebecca Ruiz explained.

“We’re trying to make it a place of peace and comfort,” she said.

A fire from the heating and ventilation system prompted the most recent remodeling hopes, but the building is also old and in need of much repair. A fix-it list a page long accompanies a donation request letter Ruiz is circulating to local businesses and contractors.

Ruiz’s passion for supporting the military radiates as she speaks about what the center offers. She first became involved in military outreach when her son joined the U.S. Army in 2006 and she became a member of the Association for the U.S. Army.

A year or two later, she saw firsthand the suffering of wounded soldiers and their families as she spent time with her son in three separate military hospitals in Germany, Maryland and Northern California. Her son was wounded his third week in Afghanistan, shot in the head, and now has a prosthetic eye.

“I’m so thankful I’m not a Gold Star Mom. I know what I went through and anything I can do to help those families I would be more than happy to do that,” she said.

Tamra Arruda, a military spouse, comes into the center with her children while she uses the Internet, working on her resume or job hunting.

“It’s great. I can bring the kids with me and they play in the playroom,” Arruda said. “They tell me about available jobs and let me know where to go to get what I need.”

According to Fort Irwin Garrison Commander Col. Kurt Pinkerton, helping soldiers integrate into normal life and get jobs is a current military initiative as soldiers return from deployment in Afghanistan. The Army’s “Soldier for Life” program is evidence to that.


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