Deployment Homecoming Surprise

The sun was beginning to set and the sky was turning warm shades of red and orange as he walked his dog around the parking lot one last time. No words were spoken when the walk was done, and the sight of every moment of their final time together was embedded in the minds of everyone that witnessed it.

“Fall in,” shouted the platoon sergeant in the distance as Private First Class Matthew Bailey of the Army National Guard and other soldiers began moving towards the parade field. He gave his dog one last hug, one last kiss on the forehead.

“You be a good boy,” Bailey said, as tears began running down his cheek.

A little more than a year ago, Bailey, a Brooks Institute student, left his home in Oxnard, Calif., for a one year deployment to Iraq. He left his dog, Sam, with me to care for, as well as his car, a 2003 Ford Focus ZX3.

His dog was easy to care for, being such a loving rescue, but his car was a bit of a beater. But I couldn’t help myself. I had to fix it up a bit for him. As a fellow veteran, and with him as my best friend, the decision to dive headfirst into the repairs was easy to make.

The laundry list of repairs grew the more I got into investigating the car. On top of that, my imagination ran wild with grand dreams of making the car over completely with new paint, custom interior, and major chassis upgrades. But the reality of my income set in and the project was scaled back dramatically. Also, to stay true to myself, I procrastinated on the project till the last possible moment.

I knew after doing most of the minor and mid-level repairs, that I wouldn’t be able to finish the car myself. I made a presentation to my friends at Vista Ford Oxnard and, without hesitation, they agreed to help with the car! (Full disclosure: I am a third-party vendor of Vista Ford Oxnard.) The major repairs that I couldn’t tackle myself were not an issue for the Ford Technicians.

This included replacement of a broken and stubborn lower motor mount as well as replacement of the AC Compressor. I figured Matt had spent enough time in the heat to have to come back to a car with no air conditioning. The Service Manager at Vista Ford, Paul De La Cruz was more than eager to help out with the project, being an Army veteran himself. And Vista Ford Vice President, Tony Fiori , the son of a military service member, was more than happy and proud to do what he could with the project.


 

“We take for granted how much our military does to protect the freedom we have. It would be a very different world without them. It’s what makes America, America, and it seemed like a perfect fit. It’s a small price to pay when it’s what we do for a living.”
– Tony Fiori, Vista Ford Oxnard Vice President


 

“As a U.S. Army Veteran myself, I was proud to have helped out, especially since he just came back from overseas. There are a ton of programs and groups out there for wounded veterans, but not too many for the regular vets. I know what it’s like, having served a year in Korea to come home after such a long period of time. It can be tough. Happy Veteran’s day and Welcome Home!” – Paul De La Cruz, Vista Oxnard Service Manager.


 

Other modifications to the car included: AEM Cold Air Intake, Progress lowering springs, 2010 SES 17″ Euro’ wheels and new tires, chrome hatch strip, cruise control repair, new headlight housings, new 3rd brake light, tinted windows, new front struts, new rear shocks, new front passenger wheel bearing, muffler delete, new Motorcraft battery, Black HVAC Stereo surround, replacement passenger side motor mount, new coolant overflow tank, new wiper blades, and an interior detailing.

Upon Matt’s return from Iraq, I got him and his mother to the dealership, after a very late night completing all of the final touches and getting the car staged. I told him that something major had happened and that it was in for an estimate.

With the staff in on the prank, we got Matt to believe that the total for repairs was more than $2,000, that the repairs were already complete, and that he had to pay for it immediately. We asked to see the manager since I didn’t authorize this slew of repairs, and he left the counter to get the Service Manager. A few moments later, Paul De La Cruz and Tony Fiori came around the corner and dug a bit deeper with the prank, all the while, the car was being staged behind him.

Once the car was in place, Tony ended the prank by saying, “We’ve got you covered,” and turned Matt around to see his car. The new wheels, the tinted windows, and the fact that it had been washed made it almost unrecognizable to him. The relief and surprise on this face was easy to read and the excitement set in with the reality of having a car that would be reliable and have everything work.

It may not be the total show car I had originally envisioned, but the end result was the same. As a 10-year U.S. Navy veteran, I know what it’s like to scrape by on a junior service member’s pay and to not have a vehicle that is reliable. I know that Paul and Tony at Vista Ford would both agree that Matt is a truly deserving person , and without his service to our country, we would not be able to enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Happy Veteran’s Day, Matt, and Welcome Home!