SOS ~ Soldiers Organized Services: Changing the Lives of Our Heroes, One Ride at a Time

By | May 8, 2013 at 12:30 pm | No comments | Columns, Feature Stories, Publisher’s Pick

By Lisa Morgan

In January 2007, Erica Stone stumbled across a stranded Marine at Palm Springs airport. He had been
shot in the leg and had fallen off a building in Iraq. He had nobody there. His whole unit was still in Iraq.
His plane had been delayed and now he was going to have to wait there for 23 hours until the next bus
came to take him to base. She insisted on taking him. He said, “Ma’m, I don’t want to put you out.”
Erika insisted and they were off. She laughs at herself as she remembers how she had a really bad paper
cut that she had been complaining about for three days. There she was, grabbing the steering wheel
with her finger sticking up, complaining about her paper cut. Meanwhile, here was this Marine who
didn’t complain once about his crushed leg.

Meanwhile at home, Erica discovered that her father, a war veteran, would sit in his truck waiting for
her to call him to take her somewhere, saying it was the highlight of his day. It was by these and other
divine appointments all coming together, that Erica Stone was driven to start SOS, a transportation
program, free to service men and women and their families. In its humble beginnings, the number of
enlisted volunteers was about 8 volunteers deep. Many of these, like her dad, were on a fixed income
and were looking to fill their day with something meaningful. Once word got out about the program,
that number grew from 8 to 64 in one day! In their first year, SOS transferred 500 Marines. Erica says,
“I just could not believe it! I was so amazed. Now (she laughs) we’ve transferred over 39,000. In 7
weeks over the last holiday period, we transported 2,200 Marines. That’s more than we transported
in our first two years put together. There is story after story of how not only the lives of the service
members are touched by this organization, but how the volunteers themselves, have been forever
changed by their contact with these amazing service men and women.”

Erica goes on to say, “We really take certain things for granted. For instance, when I go on vacation, I
make sure I have money for a rental car and other incidentals. Many of these guys and their families
are on a really fixed income. Just taking leave can put a major dent in their budget.” Erica went on to
explain, “People ask all the time, ‘Why don’t they just rent a car?’ Well, you have to be 25 to rent a
car. Many of these men are between the ages of 18 and 24! They’ve never been away from home in
their lives. A Marine that comes in on orders is reimbursed by the Marine Corp for their travels. But
for the Marine who steps off the base for pre-deployment leave, emergency leave or liberty, he/she is
responsible for all their expenses.”

There have been some incredible obstacles. Erica was actually harassed and even received death
threats from anonymous taxi drivers and companies who complained that she was taking their income
and disrupting the economy. “But I was just the girl for the job, because you don’t dare tell me what I
can and cannot do.” Just when the obstacles seemed to be too much for her something happened that
was the turning point for SOS and solidified Erica’s mission and purpose.

Erica went to pick up a young, new Marine. He was wide eyed and scared, going to the base for the first
time. They ended up getting lost and driving around quite a while before they found where he needed
to go. Michael Patton was his name. A while later Erica got a call from him saying, “I don’t know if you

remember me…we spent a lot of time driving around the base…” “Of course I remember you,” Erika
replied. “Do you need transportation?” “No ma’m,” he said. “But I’ll be deploying in three days, and
my wife is coming out to see me. I was wondering if you could give her a ride to the base.” Of course
Erika was more than happy to do it. She picked up his young bride, Amy, and got her to the base by
10 o’clock at night. The unit didn’t actually deploy until around 3 am. Erica sat in her car and watched
them kiss and say goodbye as she cried for them from her car. These were high school sweethearts
saying goodbye and facing the unknown. “I think everybody should witness at least one deployment,”
insists Erica. “The air was so eerie and the weight of what was happening was so intense. The amount
of courage, sacrifice and strength that was required to get through this was overwhelming.” Amy got
back in the car and they began the long drive back to the airport. “Ma’m,” said Amy. “I just want you
to know how much it meant to my husband that you were here for me when I came back to the car.”
“It took me forever to get to the airport,” shared Erica. “We were crying and I was trying to offer her
encouragement. I told her how when he came back, she could come and be part of SOS. I had never
experienced anything on that level before.”

“A couple months later, Amy called me. Again, she started with, ‘Mam, I don’t know if you remember
me…’ Of course I remember you, Amy! When are you coming down? ‘I’m not’ she said. ‘Michael was
killed in action.’ She called me on the day his body was shipped back,” shared Erica with emotion in
her voice. “We flew her out so she could be part of his memorial service on base. I have to tell you,
the courage and strength of that little girl just blew me away. I knew if this little girl could get through
this, then I could get through anything to keep SOS going.” Later Amy wrote to Erica about how she and
Michael met. Like the girl fresh out of high school that she was, she dotted the i’s with hearts. Then
she shared about the morning she woke up and could hear her mama crying outside her bedroom door;
how she didn’t want to get out of bed because she knew what she would be walking into. SOS was
there for this young couple when they needed them most. And the stories don’t stop here. They go on
and on! Service members send pictures of their newborns, saying “Thank you ma’m for the ride that got
me here.”

SOS has found a hole in our services to armed forces and they meet an extremely important need.
During the season, SOS has 160 volunteers. With summer coming, they are down to 60. They carry
liability insurance in the amount of 2 million dollars and reimburse their drivers for gas. They REFUSE
to take any contributions from service members and their families. They are completely fueled by
donations. SOS is a program that takes so little to do so much. They are currently campaigning to
recruit drivers and funds. If you want to be part of this incredible story, go to SOSride.org. Take a good
look at this organization. Read the notes from the service men and women who have been helped
directly by this organization and see if you are not absolutely compelled to participate in some way to
keep this incredible service going. I know I am.

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