LOS BANOS — Cassandra Helmrick wasn’t expecting the welcoming bit of good news that came in the form of a recent phone call from the office of Assemblyman Adam Gray, informing her that she’d been selected as Veteran of the Year for the 21st Assembly District.
Although Helmrick, 45, said she was obviously pleased and honored with the news, her first reaction was to think of her fellow men and women who’d served in the armed forces.
“When you get that call, it’s like: ‘Why me?’ ” Helmrick explained. “Because I told them there are like 10 others in my VFW (post) that I can think of who are more deserving than I am.”
A Navy veteran who served during Operation Desert Storm, Helmrick was among dozens of veterans from around the state who were honored last week during the seventh annual Veterans of the Year luncheon, hosted by the California Assembly.
The luncheon was held at the Sacramento Convention Center. As part of the honor, Helmrick was also given a special resolution by Gray on the Assembly floor, honoring her service.
Gray, D-Merced, explained that every year each Assembly member chooses an individual from his district to receive the honor of Veteran of the Year.
Gray said he chose Helmrick because in addition to her military service, she has also played an active role in making Los Banos a better place for residents and veterans alike.
Besides serving as junior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2487 in Los Banos, she also volunteers for a variety of community causes and events. Those activities includes serving as chairwoman for the city’s Fourth of July celebration, serving on the local Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors and helping plan the annual November veterans parade.
In addition, Helmrick has two children with her husband, Ron. The couple own “4 Namely U,” a custom design and embroidery business.
Gray said he’s crossed paths with Helmrick on numerous occasions in the community, and witnesses firsthand her good works and stellar level of dedication. Gray said honoring people like Helmrick is one of the best parts of his job, calling her a “wonderful lady.”
“She’s just a wonderful community member who goes above the call of duty in so many ways,” Gray said.
“I just want to publicly say ‘thank you’ to her, for honoring us with her service to our country and for honoring us with her service to our community.”
Born and raised in Alabama, Helmrick joined the Navy Reserve after high school, and then moved to active duty.
Like many young people after high school, Helmrick was trying to find out “where her life was going.” She said the Navy provided the challenges and structure she was looking for.
She served aboard the destroyer tender USS Puget Sound, and deployed to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Storm. She was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1994.
Helmrick’s service gave her a deep appreciation of the sacrifices made by those who serve in the U.S. armed forces. “I think I am more aware of the danger the nation faces because I was there,” Helmrick said. “The people who impress me are the ones who see all the ground stuff that goes on.”
She carries on her appreciation of veterans and the military in her junior vice commander role at the local VFW.
Helmrick acknowledged the VFW has a reputation as a “men’s club,” but she’s hoping to change that. “I’ve made it my mission to get at least three or four women into the (local) VFW,” Helmrick said. “I’ve yet to find them, but I am looking.”
Helmrick and her husband moved to Los Banos about five years ago after he retired from the Navy, where he served 20 years. Ron currently works at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, which he commutes to daily from Los Banos.
Ron said he’s inspired by the positive role his wife plays in the community, saying she’s definitely deserving of the award.
“She is putting herself out in the community much more than I anticipated and expected,” he said. “She really enjoys the VFW meetings, along with giving (the veterans) the respect they deserve. It’s something she’s very passionate about.”
Cassandra said the best part of last week’s luncheon was being among so many veterans who were proud to serve their country. She was particularly touched when a veteran in his 90s came up and thanked her personally for her service, and in return she thanked him.
“It was a big thing – not so much that I was honored, but to see the other people that were there,” she said.