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Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on May 11th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 10

Spotlight on: Echo Group

Steve Baird, president


Santa Maria Marine Corps veteran Steve Baird was a player for a local Marine Corps League softball team in 2015 when Navy veteran Brian Williamson, who was on an opposing team, noticed the marines proudly displaying their flag.

In response, Williamson brought the Navy flag to a follow-up game and it caught the attention of Baird, who approached Williamson about starting a softball team to include veterans from all branches of service. They called it the Band of Brothers. The team received tons of local support, and it grew into multiple teams based in Santa Maria and Lompoc. But that wasn’t the end of it.

Band of Brothers/Echo Group members were at the Santa Maria BBQ Festival on April 22, competing in the trip tip-cook off.

What started off as a chance encounter between a sailor and a marine during a softball game morphed into Echo Group, a sports-based nonprofit that provides support to U.S. military veterans.

With all of the support and success the veterans group has received in the past two years, Baird decided it was time to expand outreach.

“We knew we had to establish a nonprofit to support this growth,” Baird said.

Baird reached out to local country music artist JD Hardy and Santa Maria insurance agent Jaime Flores, who directed Baird to file for incorporation with Wisconsin-based, which he did. He applied on March 26 and received it on April 17. Echo Group is still awaiting federal recognition for its nonprofit status, even though it’s recognized as such in California.

Baird named the nonprofit Echo Group because Band of Brothers was already taken. The Echo part of the name is meant to represent the informal designation (in some military circles) for enlisted members, although both officers and enlisted veterans can join.

Although the names are different, Band of Brothers and Echo Group’s missions are essentially the same—to provide needed support for veterans in various ways.

Part of the group’s stated mission is to help raise funds and awareness for other nonprofits, from ones that do research on cancer or post-traumatic stress disorder, to Toys for Tots, or groups that offer veteran suicide prevention.

On a more practical level, members of the Echo Group, or Band of Brothers, readily volunteer in the community for activities like color guard details for local parades, support services for veterans through Santa Barbara County’s Veterans Treatment Court, flag retirement ceremonies, booth assistance for races, youth outreach, homeless outreach, or simply lend assistance to a veteran struggling with addiction, PTSD, and other conditions.

Baird also hopes to provide advice for youth who consider joining the military.

One of the best aspects of Echo Group, Baird said, is the peer-to-peer counseling between members. It’s not just the veterans themselves who Baird said need support, but their spouses too, which is why the group wants to establish a military spouse support group.

“That’s where we’re missing the boat,” Baird said.

Not all veterans embraced the group at first, like Santa Maria native and Army veteran Mario Alvarez, who served nine years in the Army after he enlisted in 1996. He deployed to Bosnia (twice), Kuwait, and then Afghanistan before deciding not to reenlist in 2005. Like many military veterans, the 39-year-old Alvarez missed the camaraderie he had in the service and found it difficult to relate to anyone lacking similar experience.

For two years, he was approached by members of the Band of Brothers, but couldn’t bring himself to join. He still felt “shut off” from the rest of society.

Then Alvarez said Williamson eventually convinced him to make a donation for a Christmas float in an upcoming parade and invited Alvarez to join, which he did. There, he met Baird and the two hit it off. He said the feeling was awesome.

Baird, who’s now 40 years old, had a similar experience. He served in the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged in 1998, having served several tours of duty and experienced a few gun battles along the way. Post-military life was rough at first, but he’s recovered since then.

Echo Group is brand new, and Baird is already receiving significant support for the organization. Recently, he received a phone call from web hosting company GoDaddy, whose CEO is already also a former Vietnam War Marine, and was offered help creating an official Echo Group website.

Eventually, Baird wants to take the nonprofit beyond baseball and grow into other sports.

“It’s much easier to talk to a peer group,” Alvarez said. “Not everyone served together, but we all know what we’re going through.”

For more information on Echo Group or to lend support, contact Steve Baird at or


• Labor law and payroll taxes are two essential must-knows for having a business. The Department of Industrial Relations and the Employment Development Department (EDD) invite the public to attend a free seminar on these two subjects on May 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at America’s Job Center of California located at 880 Industrial Way in San Luis Obispo. A reservation is required. To make one, visit the EDD website at or call 866-873-6083.

Staff Writer David Minsky wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, email, or mail.

Weekly Poll
Does Santa Maria have a fireworks issue?

Yes, and it's negatively affecting veterans, pets, and people with noise sensitivity.
We could crack down more on illegal ones, but it's fun for the Fourth.
No! If anything, I should be able to set off fireworks year-round.
We need to find the right balance between fun and safety.

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