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  • Above, Mike Green, an Army specialist who lost an arm in Iraq in 2005, participates in a surf camp last month at Camp Pendleton, where he and his wife are staying in new cottages for military families. At right, Green chats with veteran Toran Gaal.

  • J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Special to The Bee

  • J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Special to The Bee Lt. Carl Hill, right, makes alterations to Mike Green's swim shirt before Green took part in a special free surfing program at Camp Pendleton for wounded and injured veterans.

Coastal cottages help heal veterans

Published: Monday, Sep. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

CAMP PENDLETON – Roaring waves approach Mike Green, who faces them, waiting for that perfect ocean swell.

He charges, soars. Another is coming. The emerald wave rolls big, its white teeth curling over. Green vanishes briefly, then re-emerges with his board and shares a laugh with a friend.

He sits perched above water, ready for the next one.

"I feel more normal here," said Green, 29, an Army specialist who lost an arm to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005. "You're not thinking about your physical wound. You're thinking about the water and not wiping out."

Green was among veterans staying at the newly installed cottages at Camp Pendleton's San Onofre Beach. The cottages opened in July, replacing units that were about 30 years old and in disrepair, said John Preston, general manager at the recreation area. The new prebuilt homes are friendlier to the disabled with wheelchair access, wider hallways and railings.

The Pendleton Cottages Restoration Project, a community group, formed in 2009 to solicit donations and coordinate construction on the cottages. Work includes removing the old trailers that were there, digging a foundation for the new manufactured home and hooking them up to services, said Bob Clelland, project chairman. Additionally, the new units have metal roofs.

Work has been completed on five of eight cottages. Organizers aim to raise money to replace about 25 cottages, Clelland said. The cost of each new manufactured home is about $85,000, he said.

The nonprofit Nice Guys San Diego helps as a fiscal agent on the project. Hedges Construction of Valley Center installed the new units.

The aim is to recognize the physical and mental needs of those who have served, Clelland said.

"They need time to reflect and they need time to be able to understand that somebody cares," Clelland said.

More than 51,000 have been wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.

Camp Pendleton, along San Diego County's coastline, is the West Coast's most populated Marine base with 40,000 Marines. It is among those that have suffered the most casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Roughly 2,700 Camp Pendleton Marines and sailors are in Afghanistan.

The cottage project began because the late Jan Wells of San Clemente and her husband, Tom Hurt, lived near the base and felt connected to the community. The couple visited Clelland, an investment consultant, about Wells' wish to donate money for the effort after learning of similar work by the Rotary Club of Escondido Sunrise. Wells had been diagnosed with cancer.

"She wanted to get this completed before she passed," said Hurt, 89.

Wells died in 2011, but Hurt, a World War II veteran and father of a Marine, donated the rest of the money needed to complete work on the first cottage.

"We never intended to not finish it," Hurt said.

The cottages are not the only aging structures at Pendleton's beach. A centerpiece of the park is an old Spanish revival-style beach club built in the late 1940s and designed by Myron Hunt, the architect for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The building was condemned years ago, but remnants of its livelier past linger, including a banquet room and ornate light fixtures.

Active-duty members, retired veterans and reservists and their families can rent the cottages year-round for a nominal fee, Clelland said. Veterans do not have to be wounded, but those with physical wounds have priority for certain cottages.

Marine Corps Community Services of Camp Pendleton manages and maintains the cottages.

Green and his wife, Justina, stayed at the cottages so he could take part in a free surf camp for wounded and injured veterans. The therapeutic event is put on by volunteers from Operation Amped, a Southern California group.

Green said surfing at the beach and being with fellow veterans helped create the perfect weekend.

"Any day on the water is a good day," he said.

Journalist Marisa Agha is based in Southern California. To learn more, go to pendletoncottages.org.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marisa Agha



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