US Navy, Virginia/Sicily, 1994-2001
Though her first breath was taken in 1976 at Blanchard Valley hospital in Findlay, Lara claims Wharton as her home town. Her parents, Terry and Susan also added younger brother, Chad to the family.
Susan, a stay at home mom, was a strong role model to her children on how to show love and kindness to others, as well as running a family on a single income.
“Some daughters just have a mother, mine is also my friend.”
Terry, a Navy veteran who worked at Whirlpool, also was a great influence on helping developing Lara’s character. Lara grew up in the countryside, where her father taught her and Chad how to ride dirt bikes, shoot guns and come to love the outdoors.
“My parents have always been a moral compass throughout my life.”
When Lara graduated from Riverdale high school in 1994, she was already in the delayed entry program to become a member of the US Navy. She was determined to leave small town Ohio far behind. Though she had excelled in track, did okay academically and tested high on her military tests, Lara did not particularly like school. College was not an option partly because the cost, and partly that she had no idea what direction to go in life.
Lara scored well enough on her entry scores to be eligible to choose any tech school, she choose the difficult Corpsman school. Basic training was in Florida which she completed in September 1994. From there she headed to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center for the rigorous five-month long Corpsman training program. The stress was intense, but she was determined not to fail. The transformation from being an 18-year-old lifeguard back home, to being trusted with peoples lives in very real trauma situations, was a life changing lesson for Lara.
Lara’s first duty station was at the Naval Med Center in Portsmouth Virginia where she stayed until 1997. It was primarily a paper processing assignment, done in a basement office, which she absolutely hated. She did enjoy her off duty time, hitting the beach, going to ball games and partying with friends. Her high point was completing the ambulance driving course which would be vital in her next duty station.
Taking the initiative, wanting to have a choice over her next assignment, Lara drove to Washington D.C. to be face to face with the person handling orders. After considering Spain, Japan and Iceland among her options, Lara picked Sigonella, Sicily to be her new home.
For the next 2.5 years this newly trained Corpsman, joined two other Corpsmen, a nurse and a doctor manning a very busy, small emergency room. Daily duties included helping with sick patients, answering emergency phone calls, responding in an ambulance down very narrow, winding dangerous roads, often having to extricate victims from automobile accidents and then performing any life-saving procedure available, while enroute in the ambulance back to the ER. All done during long twelve-hour shifts.
Lara describes her experience as wonderful, exciting and horrible all mixed together. The friendships developed, the responsibility she assumed, lives that her and her team were able to save were great. The horrible part was when the patients she often had to extricate from violent car wrecks (usually 18-20 year old male and female sailors), many times so badly injured that survival was unlikely, yet she was required to perform extreme
life sustaining measures necessary until a doctor in the ER could pronounce them deceased.
These young victims, most very close in age to her, weighed heavily on Lara. When she left the Navy and returned to civilian life those memories haunted her and she turned her back on any future in the medical field. To this day, even the sound of a responding ambulance, can trigger the old memories.
Lara did love the people and island of Sicily.
“The food was awesome, the people amazing, the culture rich and the sights beautiful. I left Sigonella wiser, aged and weary. I could have extended but I could not bear anymore death.”
Today her home is filled with items from Sicily, to remind her of her time there.
Back in Ohio, Lara experienced what many veterans go through as she reacclimated. Civilians, family members, even close friends had no clue and often no desire to know what she had been through.
“I was bitter and lost for a while when I got out. No one understood what I felt, the demons I was dealing with, and the culture shock of rejoining small-town life.”
Since her arrival back in Ohio, Lara has worked hard, to face and quiet her personal demons, complete a Graphics Design degree at the University of Findlay and in 2009 married a wonderful man. Brian and Lara welcomed son Colin in 2012. After working freelance in the graphics arts field for several years, Lara now focuses her energy and time raising their son Colin and being the marketing manager for Beltz Home Service company that her and Brian
Lara describes that for a while, after Sicily, she was angry and doubted the existence of God.
“How could a loving God let such tragedies happen to such young people?”
After much soul searching, she made the decision to err on the side that there was a God and began to heal. Her faith, now rejuvenated, has been crucial to the healing of her soul. Her and Brian are active in the Trinity Lutheran church.
The Beltz’s love to camp, root for the Brown’s, attend Nascar races, and Lara quietly admits she is a Michigan fan.
Lara summarizes her journey,
“I have had many struggles in my life, but the skills and tenacity I learned the hard way in the military, make me firmly believe that no matter where life takes me… I can succeed.