After moving to San Clemente in 1988 and joining San Clemente Presbyterian Church, Mike Fluchere wanted to turn his passion of helping others into tangible action. As someone who once faced uncertain circumstances as a young man, he recognized some of the struggles young service members at Camp Pendleton oftentimes endure.
“I know what they’re going through,” said the 73-year-old Fluchere, the church’s Marine Ministry leader. “It’s a wonderful ministry and (we) want to give back to these kids who are doing so much for us and are literally putting their lives on the line.”
Since the early 2000s, the local Presbyterian church has dutifully served military personnel at Camp Pendleton through various means such as serving meals, hosting events, and doing what they can to make their service member neighbors to the south more comfortable.
“Remember, these are 18- to 21-year-old—for the most part—young single guys in the barracks, many of them away from home for the first time, and they need support,” said Fluchere. “(We show) that people in the community, care for them, and we’re there for them.”
He added that he sees the Marines as his own grandchildren, given both groups are around the same age, and giving back to them is a wonderful feeling.
For his efforts as the church’s Marine Ministry leader, Fluchere received a silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award at a ceremony on April 19.
The recognition was “quite an honor,” Fluchere said, adding that he was shocked upon hearing he had been nominated by the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion (1st CEB) at Camp Pendleton, the group his church adopted more than 15 years ago.
Being modest, Fluchere told the San Clemente Times that there are more people behind him responsible for what the ministry accomplishes, referring to the host of volunteers and friends of friends who contribute.
Adults who are 26 years old or older must have completed at least 250 service hours as part of the criteria to receive an award.
New Marines and sailors are moving into the housing units at around springtime every year, according to Fluchere, and are oftentimes married and without much furniture.
The ministry spreads the word back at church, and people who are otherwise unsure of how to help decide to donate air mattresses, kitchen tables, and washers and dryers.
“People step up,” said Fluchere.
His role involves traveling down to the base two or three times each month for command staff meetings and planning and sharing what he’s learned back with his fellow church members. Then, the internal organization starts.
The church’s Marine Ministry has put together events such as baby showers and cooking breakfast burritos for personnel coming back from long, early morning trail hikes.
He detailed a years-in-the-making story that began around 2006, when he met a young couple participating in a baby shower. It came full circle two years ago when the same couple—the husband now a gunnery sergeant—came up to Fluchere at a Christmas party with their now 16-year-old daughter, recognizing that the Presbyterian church was still serving the base.
Fluchere said the interaction melted him.
“Marines come spend a year or a couple of in the unit, go back out elsewhere in the Marine Corps, and many of them come back for a second tour in the 1st CEB,” he said. “This was one that just could have knocked me over.”
Even before the ministry officially began, Fluchere remembered the church hosting dinners for the families of those deployed in Operation Desert Storm, which began in 1991.
A self-described giving kind of person, he receives a joyful feeling from helping young families and service members, with many of the latter having come from rough childhoods, with food or events that take their minds off the stress of everyday life.
“Some do come to church now and then, and a few of them have gotten very active,” said Fluchere, adding that his church lets everyone know that they are welcomed.
He added that there are a multitude of needs at Camp Pendleton that can be filled through groups beyond just the Presbyterian church, and that for the large population of San Clemente residents who have never stepped foot on the base, there’s more than what meets the eye while driving past on Interstate 5.
“It’s an enormous, complex city with all kinds of activities going on and people who want to serve and help,” said Fluchere. “There’s plenty of avenues for that.”