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Pay It Forward: AZ honor guard gives back

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

By their very nature, military men and women are a ceremonial bunch.

So when it came time to pay it forward to a friend, you knew the honor guard of American Legion Post 1 wouldn't just hand over a wad of cash and be done with it.

"I have never met an individual like Chris. He's very affectionate and very caring. And he has an open heart. He's not afraid to step forward and help someone when they need it," retired Tech Sgt. David Carrasco said.

By that description, you might think Carrasco would be talking about someone he served with in Vietnam.

But on a sweltering day in May, he wore his honor guard uniform in the blazing sun for a man with no military history.

"He won't accept this money on his behalf, but I guarantee that he will use this money to help another veteran," said Carrasco.

That's what Chris Siedentop has spent the last year doing, helping veterans in need.

He first grew an appreciation and respect for our men and women in uniform at Bondurant Driving School, when he would train Navy SEALs behind the wheel.

That prompted Siedentop to form The Phoenix Soldiers Foundation, a charity that provides returning wounded soldiers with the trip of a lifetime, sending them to a resort to get away from the world and to get to know their families again.

But now, the foundation does so much more, and that's why Carrasco surprised Siedentop with an impromptu ceremony in front of the veteran's memorials at Post 1 in Phoenix.

"We're holding a short ceremony this morning. There isn't enough room to list his many accomplishments, and to list the total number of veterans and families that he has helped would be countless. It would be great to give him something in return. And today, we would like to present to you, $500," Carrasco told Siedentop as he handed him the stack of bills while surrounded by the other members of the honor guard.

Standing in uniform among the group was a man who says he owes everything to Siedentop, even his life.

Sgt. Darrell Vance, an Afghanistan veteran, injured both of his shoulders in training and can't work.

His wife, Sara Vance, is a recent cancer survivor, but now suffers from grand mal seizures and also can't work.

"The emotions were from the worst of being worthless, not worthy. I'm a husband, a father and I'm a defender of this country. And now I can't provide for my family. We were maybe hours away from a constable showing up and giving us maybe minutes to grab our medical stuff and (get) out," Darrell Vance said.

"It went from feeling like the devil was sitting on my back, to finding an angel in Chris," Sara Vance said.

The foundation hooked the Vance family up with people who helped them square their debts, and it connected Darrell Vance with what he was missing most, a purpose.

Siedentop secured Darrell Vance a spot on the honor guard.

"I'm being active. I'm getting up in the mornings, not just sitting around and sleeping all day long, feeling worthless," Darrell Vance said.

"These guys come back from fighting and can't get their benefits and a lot of them have given 20 years, their lives, and yet they are just standing in line to get their benefits. That's been the hardest thing to see, the lack of care from the government, taking care of these people," said Siedentop.

Just as Carrasco predicted, the money spent less than five seconds in Siedentop's hands before he gave it right back to the honor guard.

"Please, I can't accept that. It's a pleasure to serve for you," Siedentop said to a grateful group who have made a living serving all of us.

Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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