Saluting the nation's veterans

GLENDALE — Life hasn't been the same for 24-year-old Christopher Chappelle since he was deployed twice to Iraq and Afghanistan while in the Navy.

During his four years in the Navy, Chappelle was never stationed on the ground. He lived on the USS Enterprise at sea from January 2005 to September 2008.

"When I first got out, I was really depressed," he said. "There was a lot on my mind. I wasn't sleeping, had a lot of anxiety and wasn't sure what I was going to do."

Since off active duty, the paychecks stopped. Chappelle and his wife separated about five months ago.

"When it comes down to the anxiety of it and just reintegrating into the civilian world, it causes a lot of discomfort, a lot of problems," he said.

Since leaving the Navy, Chappelle said he's become more aware of his surroundings and has been on edge.

"I have learned to control it more," he said. "I used to kind of snap on people who came up from behind me."

Since leaving the Navy, Chappelle joined the Reserves two years ago and has enrolled at Pasadena City College, where he is studying to become a firefighter.

"If it wasn't for veterans organizations and groups at my school, I probably would have given up a long time ago," he said.

Chappelle was one of several service men and women who attended a veterans clinic and barbecue on Thursday at the Wellness Works Holistic Health and Community Center on Broadway.

"When you are a veteran, once you get out, for some reason everybody just accepts you," he said. "All other veterans — they don't care what you did or where you came from. You are a fellow vet. You served, and that's the important part. You are now part of this group of brothers and sisters who looks out for each other and is there for each other, and that's what I have gotten so far."

The center's barbecue was one of two local events held for veterans this year in Glendale and La Crescenta.

Another group gathered at Two Strike Memorial Park in La Crescenta, where members of the American Legion Post 288 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1614 held a remembrance and flag retirement ceremony to honor the day.

Pat Coombes, 60, of Sunland, who attended the barbecue, served as a nurse for 22 years in the Army Reserves before retiring in 1995.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, Coombes tried reenlisting in the Reserves. But other reservists were also attempting to reenlist, so Coombs was denied, she said.

Having an entire nation honor military members on a particular day was encouraging for Coombes, who said she had feared that she would be treated with disdain for joining the Reserves.

"It gives me a real great sense of pride because I remember when we first got sent overseas, all we could think about is what the Vietnam vets had gone through," she said. "They would spit at them. They would beat them up. They would do horrible things to them when they found out they are in the military, and it was just sad."

When Coombes returned home from Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War, she said she was worried the same would happen to her.

"I was scared to death," she said. "I didn't know what was going to happen, so I come home and here's these yellow ribbons and just outpouring of support.

"There is no reason America should not support the veterans. You don't have to support the war, but you have to support the troops."

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