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Band of Brothers helping Central Coast veterans on their journeys back to civilian life

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Posted at 7:15 PM, Oct 19, 2019

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Coming home from serving in the military can sometimes be a tough transition for service members.

Some struggle with drugs, alcohol or their mental health.

A group of military veterans in Santa Maria is now trying to help veterans and their families on their journeys back to civilian life.

Every Friday night in the Fall, Spring and Summer you can find Santa Maria softball fields full of those who have served.

"It started out with just two teams, real small and we've now grown into our own league of six teams to include one law enforcement team because first responders suffer the same," explained Steve Baird, President of the Echo Group Band of Brothers.

The Echo Group Band of Brothers is a grassroots effort, working to fill in what they say are gaps left behind by the federal government's support; that includes sports programs, mentoring and even housing.

Earlier this year, the Band of Brothers added a second story onto their veterans home in Santa Maria they call Camp Flores, named after the Judge Rogelio Flores who started the Veterans Treatment Court in Santa Barbara County.

This new addition allows 12 to 14 veterans to live in the home until they get back on their feet.

"Well it's pretty much open to most any veteran. Really they have to decide if they want to be a part of a community that not only exists and came together for veterans, but they have to do more; they have to volunteer for the community, do things of a little bit larger scope when it comes to giving back and helping out," Baird said.

The home features an award winning garden, brand new kitchen, and a basement converted to be able to house the most serious of cases.

"This space is solely dedicated for emergency purposes. If law enforcement identifies there's a veteran in crisis and they don't meet criteria to go to jail or things like that, we have a great working relationship where officers know they can knock on this door at 4 o'clock in the morning and there will be a space available to bring somebody," said Baird.

Operations Manager of Camp Flores Matthew Daley says volunteering at the home and playing softball with the band of brothers has improved his relationships with the people he loves the most.

"I love it personally; it helps me out and my wife and my family get to see a more energized husband at night. At the end of the day, I can lay down and just say that I've done the best that I can and helping as many people as I can every day even though not every day is a success but we keep trying and helping as many people as we can," Daley explained.

For Baird, much of the motivation for helping other veterans comes from his own struggles with post traumatic stress after leaving the Marines.

"To go from thinking we have no value in this world to people taking a chance and people those that helped pick me up and guide me when I couldn't do it myself or was too stubborn to - look at what that does now for the future. So I'm able to use my experience to help others and then they'll go out and help others," Baird said.

Baird says several veterans they help suffer from post traumatic stress or other mental illnesses and through the organization's different activities , they're able to get veterans to open up more.

"The Band of Brothers, Echo Vets, means it brought finally a closure of missing my veteranship and getting to see some men and women who have served," said Marine veteran, Richard Wilson.

"I'm starting to heal and band of brothers has made a difference because they've given me hope," said Navy veteran, Gerard Williams.

Therapist Dr. Lynda Gannt says veterans talking about what happened while they served and seeking therapy are ways to combat flareups of PTSD.

"Psychotherapy is so beneficial, teaching relaxation techniques, reframing the event into a more benign process so there's not this high anxiety and cortisol up to where they're experiencing a true panic attack," Dr. Gannt explained.

As for Baird, he says he'd like to see he'd like to see his Band of Brothers continue to grow.

"There are people everywhere that care about you and you don't have to suffer alone," Baird said.

Baird says veterans that are even out of the area are welcome to give him a call.

The next Band of Brothers softball game is November 8th at the Hagerman Sports Complex in Santa Maria at 6:30.