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Tuesday, July 19, 2005 | Lance Cpl. James Sterry was patrolling as the point man for the lead tank in the Battle of Fallujah, Iraq, when he felt a massive impact hit the top of his helmet. He remembers smelling gunpowder and feeling the swish of the air rushing past him as he fell backwards onto the pavement, cracking open the back of his skull. Then everything went black.

Seven months, five hospitals, several dozen CAT scans and two Purple Hearts later, Sterry could be found chopping wood and stacking logs in the back yard of a complete stranger’s house in Oceanside.

After a healing period that lasted as long as he could stand – if not as long as his doctors advised, Sterry had decided he was ready to get back to work. Not the sort of person to languish around the house for months on end, he had been looking for a way to return to the outdoors for a while before he stumbled upon HireMarines.com.

Since discovering the ingenious Web site, he has used it several times to track down odd jobs in and around his home town of Oceanside. The site, which functions as an employment bulletin board for San Diego and Orange County, has offered Sterry much more than a few extra bucks in his pocket each week.

“Financially, I was fine, because I was getting full pay from the Marine Corps,” said the 19-year-old, who was honorably discharged after his injury. “The big thing was, I didn’t want to just lie around the house and not get any better. I wanted to get active and start to get back to normal.”

The Web site is the brainchild of founders Mark and Tori Baird, a semi-retired couple from North County who have pumped their energy – and a large chunk of their savings – into getting the project up and running. Mark Baird said the idea for a recruitment Web site for Marines and their wives evolved out of his day-to-day encounters with servicemen and women in his home town of Oceanside.

“We know that a lot of them struggle,” he said. “We see them walking around downtown looking like their pockets are empty, and we wanted to let them have some walking-around money.”

The Bairds, who have military-age grandsons, said they were driven largely by patriotism and a desire to give back to the Marines that are standing in harm’s way. Originally, Mark Baird had visions of paying a Web designer $500 to put a page on the Internet advertising jobs. The project has so far cost him and his wife almost $125,000, money they have drawn from their retirement savings.

Prior to starting HireMarines.com, Mark Baird said he was “pretty good at opening e-mails.” His wife said she was equally adept at making her computer crash. Despite their limited technical abilities, however, and thanks to thousands of hours of legwork and time spent on the computer, fax and telephone promoting the site to employers and Marines alike, the Bairds have built up a network of hundreds of job seekers and job givers since the site went online in February this year.

Employment advertised on the site is split into two sections: Full-time jobs and day jobs. There is also a classified section. Mark Baird said he has worked to get large local employers involved in advertising for the full-time positions, and that many of the part-time jobs come from seniors and single women who “need some muscle around the house or yard.” Such people, he said, are more likely to trust a Marine than the average Joe – or Jose.

“A lot of senior citizens thank us profusely because they’re a little bit nervous sometimes about having a non-English speaking person come into their house to do their work,” he said. “Having a Marine or a Marine wife come over and do the work for them; they really get to show their patriotism. They feel good about it, and they feel real safe about letting a Marine in their house.”

One such satisfied customer is Sandra Cima, owner of Ocean Villas in Carlsbad, who has so far hired four Marines or Marine wives on a part-time basis. While she is the first person to admit that the work she has to offer is not glamorous – she usually hires housekeepers to maintain the rooms at the villas – she has witnessed nothing but enthusiasm from her part-time workers.

“I’m delighted to have them work with us, because they are delightful people,” she said. “They are hardworking, they have a positive attitude and they’re very appreciative of having a job, even if it’s not the greatest job in the world.”

Cima, whose husband is an ex-Marine and whose son is on active duty as a Marine, said she has been spreading word of the Web site to all of her friends. She said the portal is a unique way to locate hard-working, honest staff.

“If I could give a job to a military person, I would,” she said, adding, “if I could find them.”

Mark and Tori Baird hope one day their Web site will help Marines nationwide to find employment. The site will shortly be expanding to cover all of Southern California, and the founders are looking into sponsorship and advertising opportunities. Ideally, Mark Baird said he would like to partner with a large company like Wal-Mart or McDonald’s, who he said would be able to show their patriotism through their support of the enterprise.

For Marines like Sterry, whose income will soon drop to half of his base pay, the Web site remains a welcome lifeline. As he faces constant migraines, weekly doctor’s appointments and a shattered IQ and short-term memory, it’s likely Lance Cpl. Sterry is going to need all the extra help he can get.

will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org

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