When locals discovered over the New Year holiday that an Iraq veteran and his family needed some help, it touched off a response full of shock and awe, East County style.
Cpl. Billy Hyder returned last May from a 10-month deployment to Iraq, where he moved supplies and built troop housing with the 1-143 National Guard. Hyder, an Oakley resident who had previously served with the Navy and the Marines, said that as a reward for working hard, he was given the opportunity he wanted: to get out from behind the wire and escort convoys in Baghdad.
Manning a 50-cal. gunner position in an armored Humvee on one of his 10 missions, his vehicle triggered a pair of IEDs. It rung my bell, but I wasn't bleeding or anything, he said, adding that he was able to complete that, and subsequent missions.
Upon his return to California, however, he was found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and in early November he checked in to The Pathway Home, a nonprofit transition center for combat veterans in Yountville.
Back home on Dutch Slough Road, his wife, Cheryl, and daughter, Jolene, 13, were just getting by. Scrimping on groceries so they could afford gas for twice-weekly visits to Yountville, Cheryl said the home's cupboards got pretty bare. Not wanting to add to her husband's stress, she kept the problem to herself.
I'm not a complainer, she said. I was keeping my mouth shut and visiting Mom for dinner. But when Hyder got a pass and came home for Christmas, he learned the truth.
It was pretty depressing for him, Cheryl said.
Hyder said he asked the staff at Pathway if they could provide some food for his family. They gave me $30 cash right then, he said, and then all hell broke loose.
Hyder said Pathway staff contacted Army Lt. John Adams and Warrant Officer Spiro Mitsanos of the State Military Reserve, who immediately brought food for the family from their office in the South Bay. Word spread to Mark Harris, a ride captain with the Patriot Guard Riders, who e-blasted whomever he could think of on New Year's Eve.
On New Year's Day, support began arriving in volume. Throughout the day, visitors brought so much food that it was difficult to store it all in the Hyders' tiny home. The supporters filled propane tanks, dropped off gift cards, fuel cards and Christmas presents and the deluge was only beginning.
Oakley City Councilman Bruce Connelley arranged for a donation of hundreds of dollars through the Oakley-Delta Lions, and began contacting local veterinarians who could use the funds to cover fees for looking after a family dog, which is ill. Connelley contacted City Manager Brian Montgomery about city housing assistance programs that might help relocate the family to more comfortable quarters. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher checked in by phone, and reservists continued to bring aid.
Then came Saturday. Dozens of motorcyclists from the PGR, the Legion Riders, the Dirty Dogs and other veteran biker organizations from around the Bay Area and beyond, rallied nearby, then descended en masse on the Hyder home bearing cash, presents, debit cards and, most of all, emotional support.
It was incredible, said Hyder, who could only stand misty-eyed and speechless outside his house as the leather-clad convoy rolled up. To see all those motorcycles, people who didn't even know me coming long distances just for me, made everything I've ever done in the military worthwhile. I don't even feel I rate; I didn't save anybody's life. I'm just lucky the Army let me back in, and let me go on patrol. There are a lot of people who deserve it more than I do.
Harris said that in addition to escorting members of the military to and from home (including one earlier in the day on Saturday) and participating in funeral processions for fallen heroes, Help on the Homefront missions are what the groups are all about. This one, he said, was especially gratifying.
All I can say about this mission is Outstanding,' said Harris. The response and life-changing support occurred within 24 hours, on a holiday. The power of personal relationships, coupled with the unconditional determination that any veteran will never be abandoned, is overwhelming.
Hyder said that knowing that local support is so strong will make it less difficult for him as he goes through the recovery program at Pathway. It'll be a thousand times easier, he said. I was afraid I would have to drop out.
As he stood on the side of the road on Saturday, with veterans first saluting, then hugging him and his family, he also discovered something he wants to do once his recovery is complete.
I've been a biker all my life, and I want to do this, he said of the support mission. I want to pay it forward, and this is how I'm going to do it.
Hyder asked that anyone wishing to provide additional support consider a donation to The Pathway Home, P.O. Box 3930, Yountville, CA 94599.
To learn more, log on to www.thepathwayhome.org.