City Lights: A common goal to serve the country

Tuesday morning, I spent more than an hour at Coastline Community College with a woman who declared herself a pacifist at an early age, then went on to a long career with theU.S. military.

From the above paragraph, you may think this is going to be a story about transformation. It's not.

Stephanie Stone, a retired Navy corpsman, has never served in combat, never even treated a combat casualty. But Tuesday morning, she became the second guest in Coastline's Coffee with a Veteran series, in which members of the public mingle with people who have served their country in myriad ways.

Stone, who grew up in San Pedro and still lives there, did her part in the Navy for two decades as a medic — the first decade treating patients directly on the naval base, the second recruiting healthcare providers and training reservists.

As a child in a military family, Stone knew early on that she wanted to follow in the steps of her parents and great-uncles. As a descendant of immigrants, she hoped to give back to the country that had given her family new opportunities. Both inclinations led her to volunteer for medic training, which she began shortly after the Vietnam War ended.

What kept her in the service so long? In part, it was the camaraderie. As a corpsman, Stone worked on an eclectic team of people from different races, backgrounds and income levels. Once on the base, they melded into a unit.

"It's a wonderful blending," Stone told the half-dozen people, many of them fellow veterans, who lined the chairs in the center's meeting room. "We all came in with one common goal, which was to serve our country."

Listening to Stone, I found my eyes straying to the posters around the room, many of them vintage recruitment ads that portrayed troops as strapping and adventurous. One poster urged Americans to join the service and "free the world"; another showed the famous image of the men hoisting the flag at Iwo Jima.

I have no doubt that when many people enlist, they dream of playing a part in one of those iconic moments. But Tuesday's visit was a reminder that military service often takes quieter, less glamorous and no less valuable forms.

Moreover, Stone's contributions didn't end when she officially retired from the Navy. She now presides as a member of the Los Angeles County Veterans Advisory Commission and advocates for healthcare for women veterans.

That's the theme of this week's series at the center, which will host a different guest every day through Friday. Mike Wang, the center's coordinator who lined up the visitors, said the quality he looked for in each one was service to other veterans — akin to the mission of the center, which connects former personnel to job services, health specialists and more.

"I felt it was important to find veterans who continued their service to veterans after they served their time in uniform," Wang said.

If you're available later this week, I recommend stopping by the center for the upcoming sessions. You're bound to hear a fascinating story, for one thing. And you'll get a chance to thank a genuine hero — even if they're not always the kind who star on recruitment ads.

The Coffee with a Veteran series continues at 10 a.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Friday at the Veterans Resource Center in Coastline Community College's headquarters, 11460 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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