LA Fleet Week service members repair vet’s house via Habitat for Humanity program
Otis Randle spent his post-high school years, from 1967 to 1971, serving in the U.S. Navy, providing sea support aboard the USS Ranger aircraft carrier while stationed in Vietnam.
He had it easier than others who had to fight the battles on land during what was an especially long and brutal war.
Randle went on to serve as a machine mechanic in the Navy and then worked for the Post Office after his military retirement.
And late last week, just days before Memorial Day, a new generation of U.S. service men and women — sailors and Marines who were part of the 2022 LA Fleet Week festivities in San Pedro — descended on Randle’s South Los Angeles home to repair stucco, replace roofing and generally brighten things up with a new coat of paint.
Along the way, they bonded with each other and earned the gratitude of Randle, 73, and his wife, Elizabeth, 71, who were thrilled by the transformation of the two 1930s-era house Elizabeth’s parents had previously owned.
The repair job on Thursday and Friday, May 26-27, was one of the many off-site projects service men and women participate in during LA Fleet Week, which began in 2016 but was dark in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.
The workdays were also part of Habitat for Heroes, a program overseen by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, that works with other available resource providers for veterans, including Home Depot, to take care of vet-owned homes.
More than 275 veterans and active-duty military members have benefited from the Habitat for Heroes Program, which was founded in 2011 as an outreach to assist military vets with home repairs and renovations.
For many retired homeowners, the need comes as they grapple with the rising expenses of maintaining a house, something they were able to do during their working years but find much tougher with on fixed incomes.
The exercise had a purpose for the young workers as well, said Marine Corp. combat videographer Sydney Smith, 22, who participated and documented the process.
The effort encouraged the two branches of the service, she said, to expand their abilities to work together as a team.
“I thought we’d have Team Navy vs. Team Marine,” she said, “but they worked very cohesively together.”
Teams consisted of about 15 workers each day.
Crew members from the USS Essex and USS Portland — both in the Port of Los Angeles for the four-day LA Fleet Week event that wraps up on Memorial Day — pitched in for the workdays, climbing ladders and wielding power washers and paint brushes.
Among the workers was Navy Hospitalman First Class Harold Weinrich, 34, of Beaverton, Oregon,. Weinrich, stationed at Camp Pendleton, said L.A. Fleet Week — the first he’s attended — is a “great way” for service members to interact with the public.
He encouraged the public to stop by the Fleet Week expo area in San Pedro for a visit. Fleet Week continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Monday at the USS Iowa, 250 S. Harbor Blvd.
It was a year ago, said Elizabeth Randle, that her husband contacted the Habitat program for help on repairs that they calculated would cost something like $30,000 — money the couple simply couldn’t spare now that they were in their retirement years.
She’d seen how older homeowners so often couldn’t keep up with the high cost of repairs and maintenance and didn’t want their homes to be in that state.
The property includes a back house, built in 1932, where a relative will be staying and the front house, built in 1938, where the Randles live. While in basically good shape, the structures were in need of new paint and other repairs, including sealing the windows.
“Everybody is so friendly and nice,” said Elizabeth Randle, who grew up in Hawthorne. “It’s really a blessing. With all the craziness in the world, it’s good to see good people.”
Sergio Morazan, superintendent of the Habitat program, said the goal is to help U.S. veteran families extend the life of their homes while other resources may be found going forward, if needed. That, he said, will help them stay in their own homes.
“We were lucky Fleet Week was here,” Morazan said, adding that this project, about 20 miles from the San Pedro Fleet Week site, was already on the books — at just the right time. Having more workers will help to finish it up sooner, Morazan said.
As for the young workers, he said, they pick up new skills, learn to bond with one another and get lessons on the importance of preserving items that may seem, in their eyes, not worth the effort.
The projects usually take several weeks, Morazan said.
“Little by little, it starts looking fresher and better,” he said of the homes. “And that benefits the whole neighborhood.”
About Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles (Habitat LA) transforms neighborhoods throughout greater Los Angeles by bringing the community together to build affordable homes, provide critical home repairs and help families rebuild after natural disasters. Habitat LA strengthens families through helping them access affordable loans, housing counseling and down-payment assistance.
For more information about Habitat LA visit https://www.habitatla.org/.