Chula Vista woman wears combat boots for a year to help military families

Suicide statistic spurred her to act

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Imagine lacing combat boots up every day for a year -- rain or shine, at a wedding or at the beach. Michelle Soza is making that commitment, spending 365 days in tan colored-boots.

 Michelle Soza is making a commitment by spending 365 days in tan colored-boots.

"People stop and they ask me, 'What's up with the boots?'" said Soza. "Or 'What's a pretty little thing like you doing wearing boots?'"

She made the decision after hearing a shocking statistic. According to the U.S. Army, more soldiers are now dying by suicide than by enemy attack.

Soldiers are at risk when they come home, too, as there were 101 confirmed or suspected veteran suicides in 2012.

The numbers make Soza emotional, and she said, "I was so shocked, I couldn't believe it. You associate war with death, you don't associate a homecoming with death."

She bought her boots from the Boot Campaign. All proceeds from the boots on their website go to fund housing, jobs, wellness, family support and urgent assistance for soldiers and their families.

The site sold more than 250 boots last year in California alone, donating a total of $2.5 million to programs.

But Soza has taken it a step further, and has taken it to social media. Her Facebook page, Year in Boots, is raising awareness and has already made a big difference to one local veteran.

"The economy, you know, I picked a terrible time to get out," said Jeffrey Lawing, who served as a Marine for 28 years and got out in 2010. "As a Marine, you're used to standing on your own two feet, you don't want to ask for help. I was finding jobs to make ends meet, basically. It was really humbling."

Last December, Lawing's grandson had his first Christmas, but he said because of financial worries, it almost didn't happen.

"We were looking at deferring bills, going a little further into debt," said Lawing.

Year in Boots partnered with the Marine Corps League to give his Lawing's grandson much needed supplies.

"He came in and looked at all the presents -- toys, diapers, clothes," said Lawing. "They were beautifully wrapped. He tried to rip them open; we had to help him a little. It really couldn't have come at a better time. It was a present for us as much as it was a present for Gabriel."

Soza only smiles when recalling the gifts. She said there's a lot more to do.

"It's not big what I do, it's not hard to put boots on every day," said Soza. "They don't smell, but they're getting dirty. I think I'm going to wash them with some Dial."

She still has eight months in those boots to go.

"It's just my way of saying thank you," said Soza. "We're thinking about you and we do appreciate you and we want you around."

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