Veterans in our community have not only served our country, but they also are proudly serving others here at home. These hometown heroes know the difficulties veterans face when they return to civilian life and have worked closely with their comrades to make the transition easier and protect their families, while also providing them with stability and friendship.

Col. Sam Young, United States Air Force

Col. Sam Young served for 28 years in the United States Air Force, culminating his career in 1994 at Luke Air Force Base as the 56th Fighter Wing Base (Support Group) Commander. However, his heart of gold left him with a yearning to assist fellow soldiers returning home after active duty and has led to several achievements in this arena since his retirement.

“When I retired, I was the director of services for the Arizona Republic, responsible for security, new construction and operational maintenance. But it was crucial to me to stay involved in the community as well, and that is where the Veterans Medical Leadership Council came into play,” Sam says.

Sam has been involved with Veterans Medical Leadership Council for eight years, serving as president for two years as well being involved with the VMLC’s prestigious Heroes One and All Luncheon. During this time, the VMLC has raised more than $500,000 to support the needs of Maricopa County military veterans. 

“Our mission at VMLC is to ensure quality medical and mental health care for Maricopa County veterans and to encourage initiatives that honor the contributions made to our community by veterans and our military members currently defending our country.”

There are a variety of ways in which VMLC supports programs that directly serve U.S. troops and veterans: the VMLC Returning Warriors Program provides immediate financial assistance for veterans in crisis, the annual Arizona Veterans Stand-Down is a one-stop event offering basic needs and community services for the homeless, American Airlines donates airfare vouchers to veterans who are referred for evaluation or treatment at out-of-state medical facilities and so much more.

“I saw a need to help kids who were coming home with medical issues, PTSD, loss of limbs, etc. There was one young man who couldn’t afford to get to Washington D.C. to pick up a prosthetic leg that had been built for him, so we paid for his transportation. We support the Arizona Veterans Retirement Home as well. We funded 200 beds; we helped build an aviary with birds, fund new clothing, shoes and jackets with the assistance of Walmart. We bought warming blankets to help with patient circulation issues, just to name a few things,” Sam says.

Sam went on to discuss his work with Central Arizona Services. When homeless veterans are offered a chance for a place to live, VMLC purchases move-in kits to help them get on their feet. Mattresses, microwaves, sheets, silverware, towels, plates and glasses are key items they supply.

“We want them to have the basics,” he says.

Although a small organization, VMLC makes sure the money goes directly to those who need it.

“There are also so many resources we can connect veterans with, such as financial counseling. Getting them the right resources and tools is what we want to do. We’re interested in success.”

To register for the November VLMC 16th Annual Heroes Patriotic Luncheon at the Biltmore Resort, donate or find more information, visit ArizonaVMLC.org. For sponsorship opportunities, please contact Sam Young at 602.540.7648 or sam.young74@ymail.com or Trisha Anthony at tanthony@gcjpr.com or 602.274.1988.

“We understand that people run into hard times. One veteran was a mental ward patient who started to be successful in mental health. We provided nice clothing to him as he was ready to leave and reenter society. When he walked out the door, he looked successful and presentable. We worked with the facility to help boost his self-esteem. It was also a motivator for others to not lose hope. Like I said, we fix the need.” –Col. Sam Young

Soldier Brent Bretz

Kathy Pearce, founder of Arizona Heroes to Hometowns had a mission—and it was a very personal one.

“I was an advocate with the Department of Defense and wanted to start an organization to help soldiers returning home here in Arizona. The driving force behind my ambition to do so in 2010 was my son, Brent, who was injured in war,” she says.

Brent Bretz returned home after his 2004 war injury, and Kathy soon realized there was no substantial local assistance for men like him. She took her previous knowledge and applied it to helping all veterans, with a limitless base.

“It’s not just those who have physical injuries that we help, it’s also those with PTSD or unseen problems. Our realm of help goes beyond combat veterans,” she says.

Brent says this program is important to him because he knows firsthand the difficulties that await when you return home from war.

“For me, it was a loss of community and loss of having a tightknit group to rely on. I felt apprehension back at home to talk to anyone about my issues. This is a new and younger generation that is going through this process of stepping back into community. I wanted to bring these young veterans back together and make connections, form a camaraderie,” he says.

Heroes to Hometowns is a nonprofit organization with several means to give back. It hosts military family dinners at holiday time with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Gifts are handed out, coupled with adopt-a-family opportunities. Monthly dinner follows, and the Turkey to Troops program provides food boxes and grocery gift cards to military families so they can have a proper Thanksgiving dinner. Rent assistance, a peer mentoring program and a school supply drive with The Dollar Tree help these men and women get back to being on their own and providing for themselves and their families.

“The monthly dinners help us all reconnect with likeminded people and give us something to look forward to. These individuals understand each other, and this gives them that friendship and community again,” Brent says.

Kathy says it is humbling to know something this simple impacts lives.

“It’s a different kind of war, the battles these soldiers are fighting back at home. We make sure they connect for resources and much-needed togetherness.”

“Our military sacrifices a lot. The stress on them being away for the holidays is devastating. We try to help their families while they are away and when they return. If family is being taken care of, it takes some of the burden off.” – Soldier Brent Bretz