Tag Archives: omnitrans veterans

Omnitrans rider, veteran & leatherworker Ed Miller

Ed Miller with his prizewinning leather belt and holster

Longtime Omnitrans rider Ed Miller is a Vietnam War veteran, a talented leather craftsman and a recovering addict who is helping other vets in their struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. His story is an inspiration to anyone who thinks it’s too late to change their life.

In some was the deck was stacked against Ed from the beginning. When he was just an infant, his mother used to put alcohol in his bottle to quiet him and get him to sleep. His father was also an alcoholic. But it wasn’t until he received a “Dear John” letter during the Vietnam War that he started drinking heavily and began using opium. By the time he was discharged, he was completely addicted.

“For 43 years, my only focus was on how to get more dope and more alcohol,” admits Ed frankly. “It’s amazing that I still have any mental capacity after that. I drank and smoked my family away.”

Finally in 2006, Ed hit rock bottom. He devised a detailed suicide plan but decided to attend one last therapy session at the Loma Linda Veteran’s Administrantion Hospital. Psychiatrist Richard Newman took one look at him and knew that this was it. He asked Ed just one question. “Do you really want to change your life?” And Ed said yes.

“I quite cold turkey and never went back,” says Ed. “I got into the AA program, and it was like a little light bulb went off in my head. Hmmm . . . I have a choice. Do I want to fall asleep or pass out? Do I want to wake up or come to?”

“My life is very different now. I used to have to lock my stuff into a car to make sure it would still be there. At night I would pass out on my [drug] connection’s couch. Now I get to go home to where I live and enjoy it.”

Two years into his recovery, Ed joined a leatherworking class with Steve Nicholas at the VA hospital and discovered he had a gift for leather tooling and design. His intricate creations have earned him a well-deserved reputation among his peers. He is the current vice president of the Leather Artisans Guild of California.

In February, Ed competed in a veterans’ arts & crafts show and took home three first place awards for tooling, stamping and leather kit. He and the other first place winners now face a second elimination round. The final Gold Winners will receive an all-expense paid trip to Milwaukee where they will go on to compete on the national level against other veterans.

A collection of some of Ed’s leather work

Although he is passionate about his art, it is giving back to other vets that means the most to him. Three mornings a week he volunteers for Project Save at the VA, where he serves as a living example of what’s possible when you decide to turn your life around.

“About 50% of these guys come into the program because they are on parole or probation or have a court date coming up. I tell them they can wait around like me for 43 years, or they can change their lives now and enjoy the time they have ahead of them. If you were a civilian, you would have to pay over $10,000 to be in a 30-day recovery program like this. And it’s not hard to do. You just have to be honest with yourself–no more excuses–and follow along with what the facilitator tells you to do.”

Ed believes that Omnitrans provides a critical service for vets, especially those in the recovery process. “A lot of young vets in the program have had their cars impounded or mom and dad are tired of giving them money for gas and insurance. With the bus, they can’t say their car broke down or that they can’t afford the gas.  There are no excuses. They can attend program and get where they need to go without a big expense. It makes everything possible for them.”

Ed himself has been an Omnitrans rider for 3 ½ years and says it keeps him connected to his community. “Coming home I get to listen to the younger guys complain on the bus,” he chuckles. He sometimes shares his own observations with them that put it all in perspective.

“When you get past the complaining and the excuses, that’s when you have the power to change your life,” he says. “You just have to want it.”

If you are interested in contacting Ed or ordering one of his custom designs, you can reach him at edmill71@yahoo.com.

– Juno Kughler Carlson
Have a great Omnitrans story to share?  Let us know! Email juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

A symbol of pride: Ed’s leather stamp

VetLink: Helping veterans and their families

Army veteran Paul and his wife Hannah with their children
7-year-old Maddox and 1-year-old Jayce

For many people, the bus is more than just simple transportation. Sometimes it’s the tipping point that helps them turn their lives around and get a fresh start. That’s why Omnitrans partners with organizations like VetLink, which helps connect veterans, active military, and their families with services and destinations they rely on every day.

Army veteran Paul, his wife Hannah and their two children 1-year-old Jayce and 7-year-old Maddox, are a perfect example of how VetLink helps change lives.  For the past three months the family has been homeless, living in shelters and trying desperately to get on their feet again. And they have had a lot of challenges to overcome.

Hannah and Maddox

Hannah has struggled with addiction issues, and Paul with anxiety and depression.  Paul lost his job of 10 years and found a commission-based job that barely covered food and diapers. The family eventually lost their home because they could no longer afford to make the payments. The couple is now working on rebuilding their family.

It’s a commitment that means everything to them, and they are determined to make it work. But they couldn’t do it alone. They called VetLink, a project of 2-1-1 San Bernardino County.

When he received the family’s call, Vetlink representative Osvaldo Maysonet sprang into action. “Thanks to assistance from Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, the family had just moved into a subsidized apartment in San Bernardino.” he explained. “The problem was, they literally had nothing. Normally we refer people to an agency that might be able to assist them. But this family’s situation was so bad, I didn’t want to do that. Instead I went through my network of contacts to share their story and ask for help.”

A very tired Jayce falls asleep in his dad’s arms

The first night in their new apartment Paul and Hannah spent the night on the tile floor with just a sheet to cover them. Maddox slept on a blanket and little Jayce in the Pack and Play he has almost outgrown.

“People here were so kind,” said Hannah. “One of our neighbors came over and brought us dinner and offered to let us use their fridge for the baby’s bottles. Another neighbor brought us an old sheet to hang on one of the front windows for privacy.”

“It was so unexpected,” agreed Paul. “You talk to people and realize that they’ve been in the same boat as you. We’re all trying to overcome problems and turn our lives around. Nobody here has a lot, but they were still willing to share with us.”

Maddox excitedly shows off the family’s new fridge.”My dad makes the best roast beef sandwiches ever!” he told us with a grin.

By the second night, Osvaldo’s contacts had come through with help. Donations of couches, a refrigerator and a twin bed for Maddox were delivered to the family’s home. Osvaldo himself stopped by, his arms filled with grocery bags. “I work with a lot of very caring individuals,” he said. “And they sent you guys some stuff: some food, bed sheets for Maddox, shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels, blankets and a box of diapers. Someone has also donated a bedroom set that will be delivered tonight.”

The family was stunned by the generosity of the donors. “We’ve been so blessed,” said Hannah. “It is amazing how people are reaching out to help. It means so much to us.”

Omnitrans has been another important step in changing their lives. The family completely relies on the bus to meet all their everyday needs including groceries, appointments, AA meetings and trips to the VA hospital. They even depend on the bus to ride with Maddox to and from school.

Jayce plays with a truck donated by a little boy who wanted to share some of his own toys with the family.

“Maddox loves school,” said Hannah proudly. “He just got an award for excellence in writing. The last two weeks have been really rough because we moved from the homeless shelter we were in, and I didn’t have any way to get him to school.  He ended up missing almost a week. Today he came home crying because he only got 10% on his spelling test. I hugged him and told him it was okay, that next week we’ll just do better. He’s such an incredible kid and so happy all the time.”

“I thinks it’s because he’s with you guys,” Osvaldo observed. “He’s got two really caring parents. That’s what it tells me.”

Although there are still challenges ahead, the family is hopeful for the future. They are making friends in the community and have even been invited to join the local church.

“We feel so blessed by all we’ve been given,” said Hannah. “I really feel like there was a higher power at work. Our family has been given a fresh start, and we’re grateful for VetLink, Osvaldo, Omnitrans and all the people who helped make that happen.”

Osvaldo Maysonet (rear) from VetLink helped secure living essentials for the veteran family through his network of contacts.

 – Juno Kughler Carlson
   juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

Bus Rider Pays It Forward to Veterans

What do you do when you have a great public transit experience? If you’re Marcus Garcia, you pay it forward to help others.

Last fall the Chaffey nursing student was inspired by a conversation with an Omnitrans coach operator in West Valley who donates chicken dinners to families in need at his church. Marcus  wanted to find his own creative way to give back to the community and thought about the things that had made the biggest difference in his own life.

“I spend a lot of time of the bus going to and from college and  my job at the Bass Pro Shop.,” he told us, “Sometimes I might take 8 to 10 buses in one day. As a Chaffey College student, I am able to take advantage of the Omnitrans Go Smart college pass program that allows me to ride for free with my student ID.  It’s really helped  me  and made me want to pass that opportunity along to others.”

Marcus generously purchased 50 Omnitrans senior/disabled bus passes for donation. These passes are being distributed to various organizations in the Omnitrans service area to benefit veterans and others in need.

Marcus especially liked the idea of reaching out to veterans. He had talked with many of them who regularly took the bus from Montclair  to the Loma Linda veterans hospital. “It’s a long trip for these guys to get to a doctor appointment at the VA. And if it wasn’t for public transit, many of them would not have the freedom to get around at all. This was a way I could show my support and help make a difference to these people who have given so much.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

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Do you have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!
Email Juno Kughler Carlson at  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

 

Coach Operator Mentors Troubled Youth

Dwaun Roberson served in the Army as an E4 Transportation Specialist. After he completed his service, he was surprised at how difficult it was to get a job back home. “When you’re in the military they tell you that, as a vet, it’s easy to get a job later. But that’s just not the case. I looked and looked and looked for jobs and just couldn’t get a foot in the door. Finally I saw a newspaper ad online for a coach operator position with Omnitrans. A buddy had told me it was hard to get a job there, so I didn’t have high hopes. But I applied anyway, tested, did the interview and have been working here since August.”

Dwaun enjoys the variety that driving provides. “I love it. The passengers you deal with are all different, each has their own personality. Your days are never the same. It helps me stay on my toes and keeps me sharp. “

Although working transportation for the public sector is a little different for Dwaun, he finds there are still many similarities. Safety, he points out, is always a big priority. He feels the training he received in the army well equips him for the constant multitasking involved in his day-to-day work at Omnitrans. “I am trained to be very aware, to know what’s going on around me at all times. At any given time you need to be alert to the road, traffic, animals, people, your vehicle and the passengers on board.”

Eventually Dwaun hopes to get a job in law enforcement and has a particular interest in helping to make a difference in the lives of troubled kids, a group he understands very well. “I grew up as a foster kid,” he says frankly. “My mom was on drugs, my dad drank and wasn’t around. I slept in parks when I was in middle school, surrounded by gangs and everything you can think of. But somehow I never got involved in that stuff and managed to do the right thing. Prayer and music saved me. I’ve been in the music business since I was 7- or 8-years-old. I got involved with a well-known youth choir in LA called Soldiers on Soul Patrol, and we performed for Governor Gray Davis and Mayor Villaraigosa and others. I even toured with Sheila E and Patti LaBelle. I surrounded myself with older, positive people and allowed myself to be led in a positive direction. It gave me focus.”

It’s this kind of mentorship he likes to share with other kids. Before he was laid off, Dwaun worked for security for about 7 months at Perris High School. “I deliberately chose a position where I could be near kids in the worst situations. My goal was to get involved with them, to talk with them, to try to get them to open up and turn their lives around. And I did. These kids told me things they would never tell administration or anyone else, and I’d listen. Sometimes they were worried because they knew I’d have to report something. But they also knew I was acting to make things better for them.”

His message with each kid was always the same. “You can’t blame other people for your actions. You are responsible for what you do. If you blame your mom, your dad, your friends or others you will never get out. You choose what direction you want for yourself and your family. Allow yourself to be led in a positive direction. It’s choice–a mindset.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

Do you like this story and want to use it for your blog or newsletter? All our stories may be freely re-posted and shared with others!

Do you have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!
Email Juno Kughler Carlson at  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Diane Caldera, Air Force Active Reserve

Diane Caldera began working for Omnitrans in 2005 as a coach operator. Six months later she became an HR clerk then later moved into Operations to work as a field supervisor. Now she is an assistant transportation manager who supervises, mentors and helps groom others to achieve their goals.

Diane has also served in the Air Force for the past 29 years and is currently a Major in the Active Reserve. Her goal is to reach the 30 year mark and attain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

“I enlisted in the Air force when I was 21-years old, after completing two years at a junior college. Back in high school I had been a jock, but in those days there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women in professional sports. I knew I needed to develop skills, so I decided to join the Air Force to learn how to type,” laughed Diane. “I figured if I could learn to type, I would always be able get a clerical job.”

She spent the next four years as an active duty admin then entered the reserve. She became a flyer, working as a loadmaster on a huge 141 cargo plane. “There were not many women in that position in the late 80s, so I was something of a pioneer. I interviewed with three different flying squadrons and one of them agreed to take me on. I was responsible for the weight and balance of the aircraft, for the passengers we carried and the upload, download and security of our cargo. We transported everything from people to tractors, trucks, trailers and disassembled aircraft. I loved flying. We worked hard and for very long hours, but it was worth every minute.”

“The Air Force taught me a lot about time management,” Diane continues. “I’m currently on a medical flying mission where our nurses and technical crews actually fly and provide care on board the aircraft. My job is to handle the scheduling of the mission and to plan the details from beginning to end. How many nurses and technicians do we need? Do they have all their required training? How long is the mission? How far do they go? What lodging is available for the crew? What logistics are involved in loading and unloading the cargo? There are so many things that have to be taken into consideration for the successful completion of a mission. It’s the same with war games. You’re getting bombed and have to evacuate. You’ve lost communication. What are you going to do? You learn to forecast and make decisions under pressure.”

Because of her Air Force training, Diane pays close attention when job applicants list military service on their resume. She knows that those people tend to be process-oriented with strong organizational and project management skills. “They bring a lot to the table,” she says. “Because they tend to be very efficient and understand the broader picture, they often develop great ideas for streamlining processes that help us grow as an agency.”

Diane encourages everyone to go into the military for four years. “Especially the flying units, because I know how much fun I had. You’re able to see so many things and experience so much history. I’ve been to Hiroshima in Japan and saw where the A bomb was dropped. I learned to water ski and jet-ski in Wake Island in the Pacific. Europe is a beautiful country, so green and filled with historic old castles. I’ve seen the Pyramids in Egypt and the underground bazaars in Turkey. I’ve even been to Honduras during hurricane relief. I’ve seen the very, very poor as well as the unbelievably wealthy. People’s circumstances can be so vastly different. It reminds you how important it is to walk in someone else’s shoes so you can better understand their perspective. It’s a good lesson.”

In October 1997, Diane became part of the first all-female crew to fly a 141 cargo plane at the dedication of the Women’s Memorial Museum in Arlington Cemetery. The crew did a fly-by presentation and were honored on stage in front of 30,000 people. Their picture hangs in the museum to this day.

– Juno Kughler Carlson

Do you like this story and want to use it for your blog or newsletter? All our stories may be freely re-posted and shared with others!

Do you have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!

Email Juno Kughler Carlson at  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org