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After nearly being homeless following a 12-year stint in the Air Force, Operation WEBS founder Sandy Blair was driven to help female veterans struggling with their transition to civilian life.

Operation WEBS — which stands for “Women Empowered Build Strong — was founded earlier this year and aims to build small RV-certified houses that will be donated to tiny home villages that assist veterans.

Blair, who works as a real estate agent in Santa Maria, joined the Air Force in the early ’90s. She served in the Air Force through 2005, with stints at bases in Germany, the United Kingdom and South Korea. Her experience upon leaving the military and returning to the United States was what laid the foundation for Operation WEBS.

“When I left [the Air Force], I realized that civilian life and military life are two very different things,” Blair said. “Just having an Air Force career and not being able to transfer to a career in the civilian world made it very difficult to find my space. I ended up losing my house. I couldn’t find work for almost a year. My best friend took me in, along with my two kids, and we lived with her for a while. I really felt like a burden to her. I was not only just lost in a mental space but completely depressed.”

Blair continued to search for work but was repeatedly told she was overqualified. “At times I felt like [my kids] would have been better off without me because I couldn’t give them the life we had,” Blair said, hesitating with emotion. “I’ve never talked about this — it’s just really hard trying to find your place as a civilian when you’re very accustomed to structure, discipline, having a mission and purpose. And when then you go from purpose and mission to not being able to provide food for your kids.”

In 2006, Blair moved to Georgia to help take care of her father, who had suffered a stroke. Over the next several years in Georgia, Blair attended school for residential construction and then became an officer for the Dekalb County Police Department. In 2013, Blair moved to the Central Coast and became a licensed real estate agent.

“The first time I saw a tiny house was around 2011,” Blair said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, had I known about something like this or even imagined it, that could have been some type of transition.' We would have been OK in something like that — something so affordable.”

After attending a real estate conference in Los Angeles last year, Blair attended a speech on tiny homes and learned about Operation Tiny Home, a nonprofit that builds tiny houses for homeless veterans. “I’m thinking, ‘My gosh, somebody sees the need. Somebody gets it.’”

Since then, Blair has traveled to Texas and Oregon to assist with the building of tiny homes for veterans.

Operation WEBS is currently raising funds to build its first tiny home in Santa Maria and is hosting a fundraiser at the Veterans Memorial Hall on Nov. 28. The cost of building a tiny house ranges from $20,000 to $70,000 depending on the material used and the amenities incorporated into the home. Blair hopes to raise around $40,000 for the home by January.

Ultimately, Operation WEBS aims to help create a veterans tiny home community in Santa Barbara County that can help homeless veterans adjust to civilian life.

“When leaving the military, you go from being fully independent to being completely dependent and it’s a very destabilizing transition,” Blair said. “If you can get into a tiny home, it’s a little transition until you get that job, until you get that stability again, and regain that independence. That way you’re not living in your friend's basement or in your old bedroom at your mom’s house and you don’t lose that dignity [of having your own place].”

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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