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Meet the East Bay’s veterans of the year

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 at 5:01 pm in Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, Joan Buchanan, Mary Hayashi, Nancy Skinner, Sandre Swanson, Susan Bonilla, veterans.

Each of the East Bay’s Assembly members named a Veteran of the Year this week, to be recognized at the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee’s annual luncheon today in Sacramento.

Read all about these inspirational vets, after the jump…

Nathan JohnsonIn the 11th District, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, picked Nathan Johnson of Concord. Johnson served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1999 to 2003, leaving the service as a sergeant; his service included tours of duty in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After his service, Nathan attended UC Berkeley to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social welfare, and then started at the Concord Vet Center as a Global War on Terrorism (GWoT) Outreach Coordinator working with returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. “Nathan has been an invaluable resource to the veteran community in Contra Costa County and across the country, facilitating many services and activities such as GWoT Veterans Group, a game night and starting a softball team to assist returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans through the challenges of transitioning back to civilian life. We are honored to recognize Nathan for his continued service to our country,” Bonilla said.

Mia GeurtsIn the 14th District, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, picked Mia Geurts of Berkeley. Geurts, an East Bay native who graduated last month from UC Berkeley with a degree in molecular and cell biology, served as an Army Combat Medic in Iraq, earning a Combat Medical Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge as recognition of her achievement and medical work under fire. Since returning from active duty, she has volunteered at Livermore Veterans Hospital and as part of a Cal student organization, Volunteers for Medical Outreach, with which she traveled twice to Vietnam to provide basic care and prevention services in rural areas lacking access to health care. She plans to go to medical school before returning to the Army as a doctor. “Mia’s commitment to serving others under difficult circumstances is commendable. I am honored to recognize such a remarkable young woman at the beginning of her career,” Skinner said.

Spike Schau & Julie NickelsIn the 15th District, Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, picked active Navy Reservist Fred “Spike” Schau. Schau began serving in 1976 as a Navy Active Duty Officer and was honorably discharged in 1982, but has consistently re-enlisted in the Reserve since then and now serves as a Boatswain Mate Second Class Petty Officer. He’s also the state coordinator for the Northern California Warriors’ Watch Riders, where he takes part in welcome-home ceremonies for active service members and fellow veterans. “Spike is a person who embodies what this country stands for – bravery, strength and dedication. He has made our country proud and is a respected leader in our community,” Buchanan said. “This award only touches the surface of the recognition that Spike deserves for his outstanding service thus far. His signature ‘Go Navy, Baby’ motto makes it clear just how much he loves our country. I hope that others see what an amazing role model he is and follow his courageous example.”

Eric TruebloodIn the 16th District, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, picked the late U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Eric Trueblood, an Alameda native killed in Afghanistan on March 10; Eric’s father, Donald Trueblood, accepted the honor on his son’s behalf. The Los Angeles Times reported that Eric Trueblood attended Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School before transferring to Alameda High but didn’t graduate; after earning his GED, he joined the Army in 2003 and then deployed first to Kuwait as a mechanic, and then to Afghanistan as a Humvee roof gunner. Upon returning and re-enlisting, he decided to specialize in explosive ordinance disposal and finished first in his class in that training. He was stationed in Germany for two years, during which his father said he accompanied the U.S. Secret Service to the Republic of Georgia and South Africa and was part of the security team for two U.N. General Assembly meetings. He extended his enlistment in order to return to the front lines in Afghanistan in February. He was killed at age 27 by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province; he’s buried at Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie, Wyo., where his parents attended high school.

I didn’t hear back today from Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, or Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont; hopefully I’ll be able to add their veteran-of-the-year picks later.

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