Friday, 15 September 2017 15:28

U.S. Navy Vet: Gift Puts Him on Road to Opportunity in Chaska, MN

Written by Unsie Zuege, Southwest News Media
Justin Greigo and his fiancee, Chelsea Decker, check out their new ride, a 2014 Plymouth Dodge minivan. Justin Greigo and his fiancee, Chelsea Decker, check out their new ride, a 2014 Plymouth Dodge minivan. Unsie Zuege


Justin Griego had a car---a 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix. But then it started acting up, becoming much less reliable for him, his fiancee Chelsea Decker, and their young son.

Thanks to a program called Recycled Rides, in which participating auto repair shops refurbish and donate former “totaled” vehicles, Griego and his family have one less hurdle to overcome.

Griego, a Chaska, MN, resident, joined the U.S. Navy in 2005 at age 17, right out of high school. He became a U.S. Navy helicopter mechanic, working on electrical components and serving as plane captain. He was deployed two times.

Both deployments were humanitarian missions meant to build schools and goodwill in remote areas of the world. After his second deployment, during a post-flight inspection, a helicopter blade that was being reset fell on him. It hit him on the head and neck, resulting in muscle damage, insomnia, and other long-term disabilities.
In November 2013, Griego and Decker had a baby boy. But their joy turned to worry when not long afterward, Decker was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While the cancer is in remission, she suffers from the effects of the chemotherapy.

At about the same time, they learned their son, Matthew, exhibited signs of autism. With early intervention, he has made significant progress.

With all these cascading challenges, Griego had to quit his job, and eventually the family was homeless. Fortunately, they were able to get help through a program that assists homeless vets.

Griego is attending school to study early childhood education and sign language. Working with educators and counselors at District 112 provided him an opportunity to understand the work they do to help children like his son, and inspired him to work in education.

Honoring Vets

The “Recycled Rides” program is a national program, spearheaded by the National Auto Body Council (NABC). Vehicles deemed total losses by insurance companies are repaired, restored and rebuilt. 

“Just because it’s classified as a ‘total loss’ doesn’t mean that it can’t be fixed,” explained Darrell Amberson, president of operations at LaMettry’s Collision. LaMettry’s has several Twin Cities locations, including Chanhassen. “In the insurance industry, a vehicle is considered a total loss by a mathematical formula. They calculate the cost of the repairs and the value of the car, and if it falls below a certain monetary value, the car is classified as totaled. But it doesn’t have much to do with the condition of the car itself. They’re serviceable and just need to be refurbished.”

This is LaMettry’s seventh year as a Recycled Rides donor, and “my fourth year since being here,” Amberson said. “We’ve worked with several different insurance companies---State Farm, Farmers Insurance, American Family---who find the vehicles for us; the NABC helps with the legal paperwork.”

“It’s not only a good cause, providing a vehicle for a veteran,” Amberson said, “but the program also provides training for our less experienced mechanics. They have an opportunity to learn alongside our experienced mechanics. Everybody benefits.”

This year’s Recycled Ride is a gray 2014 Dodge Caravan minivan.

“Refurbished cars can be donated to anyone, but LaMettry’s has chosen military veterans,” Amberson said. “We want to do something for our military veterans.”

Choosing a Vet

When it came time earlier this year to pick a recipient, Amberson got in touch with some people out at Flying Cloud Airport. 

“I knew that the airport had associations with a number of military vet groups,” Amberson said. “As I talked with various people, Bob Ayotte’s name kept coming up. So I called him.”

Bob Ayotte, a retired U.S. Army colonel and real property accountable officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is involved with several military service and veterans groups, including Chanhassen’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program. Amberson enlisted Ayotte’s help in finding candidates.

“It’s difficult,” Ayotte said, “because there are so many good ones out there. But we really do look for someone who has faced some tough times, who could really benefit. Sometimes we’ve picked the family of a vet. One year, the recipient was the family of Kham See Xiong, of St. Paul, MN, an Army private who was one of 13 killed in the Fort Hood shooting Nov. 5, 2009.”

“They are people who generally shy away from publicity,” Amberson said of the recipients. “And, it can be a delicate situation, but we donate the car to someone who’s had some incident or mishap, who really could benefit.”



After reviewing a slate of candidates, LaMettry’s decided on Griego, who was notified earlier this summer. The donation event in his honor was Sept. 8, at the LaMettry’s Collision complex in Chanhassen, MN.

At the reception, Griego received congratulations from dignitaries and LaMettry employees alike, and had pictures taken in front of his Plymouth Caravan, which sported a huge green bow on its roof. Amberson handed off the minivan keys to an appreciative Griego, who thanked those gathered for the gift.

Later in the day, after he had a chance to catch his breath, Griego shared his thoughts.

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