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A Citadel Related “God Wink” for Memorial Day

Wittman Cannon graves Arlington

Melanie Cannon, wife of SMSGT Robert S. Cannon, sent this photo from Arlington national Cemetery. To the left is the grave marker for Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman, a graduate of The Citadel. photo by Melanie Cannon used with permission

Each Memorial Day since my son was deployed I remember the families of the fallen soldiers from his unit. Today as I was posting a photo of Sgt. Aaron Wittman’s tree from the Warrior’s Walk at Ft Stewart a private message showed up in my Facebook inbox.

For several years now I’ve administered Facebook groups for new parents of cadets at The Citadel. I am Facebook friends with many of the parents. The note I received today was from a mom of a rising senior. We are Facebook friends, but I don’t know that we have met in person. The last private note we exchanged was her son’s knob year.

The note I received this morning follows. It serves as a reminder that we are all connected in ways we may not fully understand. I do believe that God gives us these encounters as a way to remind us we are not alone. I do not believe this was sheer chance. There are too many connections that brought strangers together for it to be sheer luck.

Military families, especially on this weekend, share a special bond. I asked Melanie for her permission to share her touching story here and she agreed. I post this story today to honor these families and others who are grieving, especially this weekend.

 

From Melanie Cannon, Citadel mom and Gold Star wife of SMSGT. Robert Cannon:

“I’m in DC this week for Memorial Day and while we were at Arlington Cemetery noticed the marker beside my husbands is for Aaron Wittman. That blew me away since there are over 400,000 markers there and the Citadel grad that you share info about/scholarship, etc. is buried next to my husband. What are the chances of knowing or knowing about another person buried right beside your loved one at Arlington? I think they call those type of things God winks? Just thought I would share. It was the first time we had visited Arlington since my husbands marker was erected. There was a young man from Virginia that came up, while we were there, and laid a coin on Aaron’s grave and we spoke to him about it.”

A little about Robert Cannon:

“My husband was a flight engineer, Senior Master Sergeant in the Air National Guard- from Charlotte NC. He was killed in an aviation accident. They were conducting a MAFFS mission in South Dakota July 1,2012.”

This Memorial Day by all means enjoy time with your family and friends, but I do hope in the midst of your time together you would take at least a few minutes to remember the people who gave everything so that we may freely gather.

My thoughts and prayers are with all the Gold Star families who are missing their loved one this weekend.

Wittman grave Arlington

photo by Melanie Cannon used with permission

Previous blog posts about Sgt. Aaron Wittman:

RIP SGT Aaron Wittman

In Memory of Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman, an American Hero

Welcoming the New Cadets and Honoring our Fallen

Gifts for Citadel Cadets and Graduates

Wearables

Each year around this time I am asked about gift ideas for cadets. While each cadet and graduate will have different likes and needs, I’ll post a list of suggestions. I have not purchased from all these companies and this post is not an endorsement of their company, just a listing of companies who offer Citadel related products. These ideas also hold for graduation gifts, and appreciation gifts for senior mentors, classmates and recent graduates. The Citadel Bookstore is a great place to start for gift giving. The photos in this entry of the bookstore were taken over parents weekend, 2014.

Here is the list in no particular order:

The Citadel Bookstore – Diploma Frames, gift frames, glassware, jewelry, etc.

Citadel Alumni Association Merchandise – Alumni gifts of all types Including the Big Red Flag

The Citadel Miniature ring and pendant

For junior and senior cadets: Citadel Alumni Association Lifetime Membership

LaHart – jewelry, crystal and glassware

Football Fanatics – wearables

Original Collegiate Art by Brenda Harris Tustian

Summerall Guard merchadise

Philanthropic giving – various cadet related funds. Give in honor or memory of someone. See this previous blog post for links.

Citadel Bulldog apparel by CBSSports

Citadel Sports gifts by Planet Sports Team

Citadel Golf Accessories

SoCon Gear

Bulldog embroidered pants, shorts, shirts and skirts by Pennington and Bailes

Palmetto Boards ‘n Bags – Customized corn hole boards are a popular gift for any Citadel fan.

Bottle Breacher – A fun gift for a graduate in the military

Spirited Signs – A company owned and operated by a Citadel alum.

A decal by Spirited Signs.

A decal by Spirited Signs.

Historic Nutcrackers – Citadel Cadet Nutcracker to be available after January 2015. Contact the company for more information.

Combat Humidor a great gift for a deployed alum.

Through Their Eyes – a new book by George Steffner

I have learned that Carolina Cadets is not currently stocked with their full range of nutcrackers and ornaments, but she does have the 48″ Cadet Nutcrackers. You can contact her through the Facebook page for her cake decorating business.

Diploma frame Diploma Frames Citadel Book F-Troop Book Citadel/Military related books Gift items Jewelry watches License plate frames Artwork Sketches Stuffed Bulldog mascot Photo frames

 

Payback is Hell

My sophomore year the team played in more tournaments than any other college team. We went to the University of Utah. On a day off we went to the top of a ski mountain outside of Salt Lake City. That is me to the far right in the photo.

My junior year the team played in more tournaments than any other college team. We went to the University of Utah for one of them. On a day off we went to the top of a ski mountain outside of Salt Lake City. That is me to the far right in the photo. I am still in touch with a number of the players and managers.

There are times when I am positive my parents are watching me from heaven just laughing away, now especially. My oldest is out of the house on his own, my middle son is beginning a career in the hospitality industry and my youngest is in high school.

My parents have been gone for a while now. Mom died when I was pregnant with my oldest so she never had the chance to hold my children and see them grow. Dad died five years later after a battle with Alzheimer’s and cancer. He met the oldest two, but didn’t really know who they were.

During a photo op on top of the mountain. That is Coach Michael Perry, now with East Carolina University. JD Harrison behind us is now a chaplain in a hospital.

During a photo op on top of the mountain. That is Coach Michael Perry, now with East Carolina University, next to me. JD Harrison, behind us, is now a chaplain in a hospital.

I’m at that interesting time in life when we aren’t quite empty nesters, but I can see it on the horizon. When my oldest left to study at The Citadel I knew he was where he wanted to be. It was the best experience for him. As he spread his wings and began to spend less and less time at home I began channelling my mother.

“We’d love to see you.” “Are you sure you can’t make it home over spring break?” “Oh, you won’t be home for the holidays?”

After Utah we played in a tournament in Florida over the Christmas break. 1978-79 school year.

After Utah we played in a tournament in Florida over the Christmas break. 1978-79 school year.

You see, when I was in college I worked in the athletic department at the University of Richmond. First I was a manager of the men’s basketball team. We had abbreviated Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. In the summers I worked in the sports information office and with the marketing office. I made it home for short little vacations here and there. When I left home in New Jersey for college at 17, I never returned to live there again.

When I find myself lamenting at the lack of time with my oldest son, I look back remember how I felt as a young adult. I loved my parents, but I was making my way in the world as an adult. I did call pretty often and wrote once in a while, but we really didn’t have time together. To me I was doing what they raised me to do, be on my own.

So today, as I find myself wondering where the time has gone and how much I miss talking with my oldest, I know my parents are smiling and saying to me, “See? Now you know how it feels!”

By my senior year I was a student assistant in the Sports Information office at the University of Richmond. This photo with long time freind, Tom Allen, was taken in the football press box. 1980

By my senior year I was a student assistant in the sports information office at the University of Richmond. This photo with long time friend, Tom Allen, was taken in the football press box. 1980

Prayer Squares for Military Members

Prayer Square

This past Sunday the members of  Prayers and Squares and the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church joined together in an outreach project. Joyce Pettit a member of Prayers and Squares used her time during the recent ice storm to sew 67 prayers squares for military members. She then called me as the chair of the military ministry to discuss how we would get members and guest of our church together to pray over the squares and to tie knots in them. THe project was well received by the congregation.

Prayer and Squares is a nationwide interfaith organization that promotes prayer through the use of quilts. You can read more about their outreach through this link.

The Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church is made up of military members, veterans and anyone who is interested in supporting the military. We meet ever other month on the evening of the second Tuesday of the month. We are a member congregation of Care For The Troops.

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An Army Mom’s Reflections on Veterans Day 2013

Our soldier is in the second row.

Our soldier is in the second row.
photo by Stanley Leary.

We passed an anniversary last week. It was one of great emotional significance to our family. On this Veterans Day I thought I’d share these reflections from my Army mom perspective.

Last week marked the anniversary of my oldest son’s first deployment to Afghanistan. He is home, safe, and awaiting his orders for the next stage in his Army career.

Even though he is stateside, and I know he is just fine, I wrestle with the emotions of the past year. When I hear the National Anthem played or watch a patriotic video I relive the emotions I felt during my son’s deployment. Especially today as images of our veterans are flashed on television, and written about in the newspapers and social media, my emotions are right at the surface.

Being the family member of a combat veteran brings with it a unique set of emotions. We are proud of our soldier, but anxious for their safety. A huge part of me hopes he will never be deployed again. But my wishes are secondary to my son’s desire to do what he has trained years to do, defend our country.

I watched a beautifully done piece by Brian Storm. It is about Starbucks effort to hire veterans. It isn’t really a piece that would bring other non-military people to tears. This morning, sitting at my kitchen table watching that 13 minute piece, I had a lump in my throat.

At one point in the video was a clip of a returning group of soldiers. I was immediate brought back to a day this passed July when our family and a few friends waited anxiously for our soldier and the rest of his battalion to return from their nine month deployment.

The General addresses the assembled crowd of family and friends. photo by Stanley Leary

The General addresses the assembled crowd of family and friends.
photo by Stanley Leary

I had never experienced such a mixture of emotions before that day in July. I wanted to laugh, but my throat was too tight. Tears formed as they marched in, but then we had to wait for a series of addresses, songs and rituals.

My stomach did somersaults as the General spoke a few words before the crowd was unleashed to rush toward their soldier. Then, then came the moment when my daughter and I sprinted to our soldier for the BEST HUG EVER.

The mind is a funny thing. In the simple act of remembering that moment I am brought to tears.

So today, Veterans Day, 2013, I will honor our veterans, but in my own quiet way. This year, and probably for the next several years, my emotions are too close to the surface to attend public events.

I don’t mind people seeing me tear up in public. I know my tears honor the brave  men and women who serve. I also know my emotions are not necessarily the same as another military mom.

But for today, I need to take care of myself and not dwell in that dark scary place family members dwell in when their loved one is in harm’s way.

A video by my husband, photographer, Stanley Leary, of the Homecoming, July 2013.

Our family is together again. photo by Stanley Leary

Our family is together again.
photo by Stanley Leary

Our family welcomed Nelson home from his first deployment in July 2013. Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

Our family welcomed Nelson home from his first deployment in July 2013.
Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

 

Supporting the Troops With Care Packages

Care packages ready to be shipped to deployed cadets and graduates of The Citadel.

The Citadel Heroes Project. Care packages ready to be shipped to deployed cadets and graduates of The Citadel.

We are approaching Thanksgiving time, and the time to send care packages to troops for the holidays.

At The Citadel a great volunteer effort was started several years ago to send boxes to deployed cadets and graduates, The Citadel Heroes Project.

I’ve written about this effort before. The time to send donations for their holiday mailing is now. Susie Maghakian of the Krause Leadership Center on campus is the staff coordinator for the project. Theresa Chamberlain is the parent of a graduate and is the current volunteer coordinator of the program.

For a list of suggested items you can visit the Citadel Family Association page for the project, just note that the contact information is out of date for Susie.

Please send your donations of items for the boxes, or a check for the postage made out to The Citadel Heroes Project, to:

Susie Maghakian, Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics, 171 Moultrie Street, The Citadel Station, Charleston, SC  29409

or if you are sending items via UPS or other carrier use the physical address on campus:

Susie Maghakian, Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics, 201 Richardson Ave, 171 Moultrie Street, Charleston, SC 29409

susie.maghakian@citadel.edu

Phone: 843-953-5815

People always ask what should be included in care packages. A general rule is not to send items that have a short shelf life. Mail can be delayed and items like home-baked good soften arrived spoiled.

If you Google “what to send a deployed soldier” quite a few sites with suggestions will pop up. Give 2 the Troops is one of many sites you will find that offer a list of items. I’ll include a few suggestions here, but please note this list is not exhaustive. If you know the person you are sending items to, ask them what they would like and would appreciate. Some units have ready access to day to day items, others do not.

Saran Wrap: I have recently learned that including a roll of saran wrap in a care package could help save a soldier’s life. In a recent email from a Citadel grad who is working as a contractor in Afghanistan he wrote: “Its use would be as an emergency field medical expedient dressing to wrap hastily around the chest of a torso-wounded teammate to prevent death by ‘sucking chest wound.’  Some SF medics I work with have recommended this technique.  I’m sure it would have other practical uses as well.”

Snacks: Individual packets of trail mix and nuts, granola bars, protein bars, breakfast bars, fruit leather, jerky, hard candy, chewing gum, small packets of cookies, individual serving containers of noodles. If they have access to a microwave the individual meals are great.

Beverage powder: Individual drink packets to be added to water – all flavors; hot chocolate packets; instant coffee; powdered creamer

Sauces: Dipping sauces from your local fast food store; hot sauces

Non food items: soft toilet paper, baby wipes, Q-Tips, in the winter month hand warmers, disposable razors, feminine hygiene products-if you know there are women in the unit

Personal care items (do not include in the same box as food): shampoo, shaving cream in squeeze tubes, liquid body soap, deodorant, sun screen

Homemade goodies: Cake in a Jar. You can find several recipes for this online. See this link for one recipe.

Other items: School supplies, like pencils, paper, crayons. These items are given to the local school children; wrapped candies

Socks, Underwear, T-Shirts : If you know the soldier and their sizes these items are appreciated. Covert Threads is a great resource for good socks for soldiers. THey have a buy 10 get three free policy which makes the socks even more affordable. It is a great option for groups sending items out.

Packing tips:

Take items and individual packets out of the box they came in and put them in a zip lock bag. You can fit more in a care package this way and the ziplock bag can be used for other things once the solder has the box. Plus, they have to burn their trash.

Do not mix scented items with food items.

If you try to send home-baked goods vacuum pack them.

Add some fun items like a deck of cards, photos of friends and family, letters and drawings from children, fun toys from the dollar store to blow off steam

I'm inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping. Note the packets of oatmeal and breakfast bars (on the left side of hte photo) are repacked into ziplock bags. THe cardboard wrapping on the socks was removed before shipping them to Afghanistan. The clothing items were packed in vacuum bags so help get more into the boxes. photo by Stanley Leary

I’m inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping. Note the packets of oatmeal and breakfast bars (on the left side of the photo) are repacked into ziplock bags. The cardboard wrapping on the socks was removed before shipping them to Afghanistan. The clothing items were packed in vacuum bags so help get more into the boxes.
photo by Stanley Leary

The United States Postal Service has a great webpage with instructions on how to ship to APO/FPO/DPO addresses.

See this list from the USPS of items not to send.

Several organizations support the troops year round. I will list a few here that I have contacted myself:

Military Families Ministries

Operation Gratitude

Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes

USO

A Small World – The Citadel Edition

I am an outgoing person and try to stay in touch with the friends I make so it isn’t surprising that I will run into acquaintances as our family travels. Since my son graduated from The Citadel I now find the connections I made through his time at the school adds an additional layer to these small world meetings. A chance meeting this past weekend brought this to mind.

A little background. . . .  During my son’s deployment a friend in my church, who is a graduate of The Citadel, sent an email of introduction to his former classmate, a 1972 graduate. This gentleman has been a tremendous source of support and encouragement to me while my son was deployed. He keeps track of the graduates, cadets and some parents of cadets who are in Afghanistan serving our country.

On occasion I will ask my contact for names of deployed soldiers who would like a care package. My contact then sends a note to his list asking for the soldiers to respond to me with their requests.

In response to one of these emails I received a surprise note from a Captain asking for something I never thought about. He asked for American flags. He and his Apache crew fly the flags then send them to people as a thank you for their support. He and his crew were buying them out of their own pockets. He asked if we could find people who would send them a dozen. Together with another Citadel mom we quickly asked the moms of Citadel Cadets to contact us if they would like to contribute to the cause. Within a day or so we had enough money to purchase more than the amount requested. After calling a few flag makers I found one who gave us a good discount which enabled us to factor the postage in as well.

When I saw the Captain’s name I knew it sounded familiar. Sure enough, he is the same Timothy Devine who is from our home town, who graduated from the same high school as my son, then went on to The Citadel and his senior year, Class of 2007,  was the Regimental Commander. I had heard his mother worked for a local school, so I called her.

As both an Army mom and the mom of a Citadel graduate I would want to know if someone reached out to my son, so I called Captain Devine’s mom, Karen, to tell her about the flags. We talked and shared some emotional deployment stories. It was nice to know that there was another mom near by who I share quite a bit with even though we had never met.

This certificate accompanied a flag flown in Afghanistan.

This certificate accompanied a flag flown in Afghanistan.

Last week a box arrived in the mail from deployed the Captain! He sent a nice certificate and one of the 3′ x 5′ flags that had flown aboard an AH – 64D Apache Helicopter over the provinces of Afghanistan on a combat mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I had offered to send the flags to a few individuals for the Captain. He included a flag for me, one for my friend, Sarah Lancaster. I was able to deliver one directly to a Citadel mom who is a teacher. Her class sent drawings and notes to soldiers. I asked the recipients to take a photos with their flag so Captain Devine would see them.

With the flags off to their recipients I thought the chapter on flags was shut. Until I went to the garden nursery this weekend.

As I walked to my car another vehicle pulled in. On the back of the car was a Blue Star sticker and a sticker for The Citadel. When the driver got out I asked if he is a graduate. Just as I gave my name his wife came around the car and said, “I am Karen Devine!” What a wonderful surprise.

We hugged and, of course, I asked if we could get a photo taken of the two of us. We both happened to be wearing Citadel blue too!

Karen Devine and Dorie stand by the back of the Devine's car for a photo.

Karen Devine and Dorie stand by the back of the Devine’s car for a photo.

 

Karen and I arranged to meet again at her school so I could show her the certificate and flag her son, CPT Timothy Devine sent to me.

Karen and I arranged to meet again at her school so I could show her the certificate and flag her son, CPT Timothy Devine, sent to me.

 

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