Local veterans and their families gathered early Saturday morning for the Veteran Services Collaborative’s inaugural Memorial Day weekend Backpack Walk at Realty Executives in Newhall.
The 3-mile walk was created to honor local veterans and participants were encouraged to bring backpacks to simulate the real backpack marches done by those in the service.
Prior to the start of the walk, veterans were able to speak to Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, who were in attendance to show their support for the veteran community.
“We’re very fortunate to have a group of veterans in this community who are really working hard to look out for one another and their needs,” Smith said. “The fact that they can all come together at events like this, particularly on Memorial weekend, speaks to how much they honor not only each other’s service, but making sure each other stays strong and have the support that they need as veterans.”
This is a topic that hits home for Hill as her brother is leaving for Navy boot camp next week.
“This weekend is so important because it always brings to the forefront of our attention the sacrifices that have been made to give us the freedoms we often take for granted,” Hill said. “There’s one thing that unites us and that’s the belief in America and belief in the values of truth, justice and freedom and the pursuit of happiness — and that’s exactly what’s represented here today with the commitment to the men and women who served.”
Albert Rodriguez is both a realtor at Realty Executives and a collaborative board member who said he knows the struggles veterans face when returning to civilian life, which is why he gets involved.
“When I got out of the Marine Corps, I was lost in a sense,” Rodriguez said. “Being in the Marine Corps 12 years everything was scheduled for me — I was told what to do, what to eat. But when you become a civilian, that totally changes. You have nobody helping you and you feel alone. So part of me ended up doing this just to give back because I know how it is to feel alone.”
The walk followed a wheelchair-friendly route, so anyone could participate. Upon completion, participants were given a grab bag as well as a Tommy’s hamburger and ice cream from Augusta Financial. Participants who brought backpacks were also given prizes for various categories, including heaviest backpack.
“This is a great way to get us vets together and support each other,” U.S. Air Force veteran Bob MacKenzie said.
Proceeds from the walk will go toward expanding the services provided by the Veteran Services Collaborative and improving the Veteran Center, according to David M. Jackson, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and vice president of the collaborative.
“I particularly appreciate the work of the collaborative and everything that they do to try to connect our local veterans with all of the services that they may need,” Smith said. “To have a local service center here that speaks directly to our veterans in the community is something I’m always going to support.”
Local U.S. Army veteran David Neill and his wife, Nancy, said they too came to support the veteran center.
“There are so many services that people don’t know are available,” Nancy Neill said.
The collaborative’s next event, Pathways to Empowerment, will be a veteran and family health day held from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 15 at The Centre in Santa Clarita.
The Veteran Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 23222 Lyons Avenue in Newhall.
To learn more about the Veteran Services Collaborative or Pathways to Empowerment, visit https://www.scv-vets.org/ or call the center at 661-670-8680.