WARREN - Chuck Ciapala admits there were times when he stumbled in life. He was ''being dumb, running around, being stupid,'' he said, thinking he was invincible, judgment he now realizes was badly misguided.
But each time he tripped, the Veterans Service Office, he said, was there to give him a lift.
That's why the Marine Corps veteran wants to ''pay it forward,'' he said, to help veterans who need it.
Tribune Chronicle / Ron Selak Jr.
Chuck Ciapala, 39, of Warren, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and has made it a mission to help other veterans.
''I want to do things, there were a couple times in my life when I fell down, and the VA was always there to pick me up,'' said Ciapala, 39. ''They always supported me when I had a couple troubles, and now it's my turn, where I'm at in my life, it's time to start setting things up for other people who may have walked in my path or just have things set up for them.''
Ciapala runs a yearly collection drive for care packages for soldiers overseas from Callahan's Irish Pub in Warren, where he tends bar.
From about Veteran's Day in November through Christmas, he collects items like soap, toothpaste and puzzle books and drops the items off to a veterans affairs representative at Youngstown State University to be sent overseas.
He remembers from his service overseas what a ''big morale booster'' it was for soldiers to receive items from people back home, and wants soldiers now to experience the same.
But he also wanted to do something for veterans here, so he put together a golf outing.
The event Aug. 4 went ''fantastic'' for it being the first year, Ciapala said. Twenty-one four-person teams participating in the event in Braceville, and sponsors helped raise more than $2,000 for the Disabled American Veterans Trumbull County Chapter 11.
Ciapala said he wanted to help disabled veterans because he is one. While overseas, he suffered non-combat related injuries to his knee and back, he said.
Next year, Ciapala said, he plans to hold the event earlier, probably in May, to avoid losing participants to vacations and other commitments. Ciapala said he also wants to expand the list of sponsors and donations.
Ciapala said his want to help definitely comes from the help he was given. The VA, he said, changed the way he approached life, ''changed his life around,'' he said.
''All those times those guys were there to help me, it's only right that you give back,'' Ciapala said.
Ciapala served in the Marines from December 1991 to December 1997, enlisting shortly after he graduated from Warren G. Harding High School in 1991.
He and friend planned to join the Navy, a branch in which Ciapala's uncles served. Ciapala said his grades weren't the greatest in high school, sports wasn't an option - he was on the baseball team in high school, but admits he sat on the bench - and working in a mill wasn't an option.
But his buddy backed out. Ciapala said they argued at the recruiter's office, and when a Marine recruiter heard the commotion, he popped his head out of his office, invited Ciapala in, and the rest is history.
Ciapala said his primary base was Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but he spent a lot of time overseas in Kuwait, Somalia, Japan, Korea and Cuba his first four years. His last two, he was a primary marksmanship instructor in San Diego.
Now, in addition to tending bar and the work he does for other veterans, Ciapala is enrolled at YSU, where he studying social work.
And when he's finished with college, he wants to work with veterans.