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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.

 

The Yellow Ribbon Comes Down

The fluffy new ribbon was posted in November of 2012

The fluffy new ribbon was posted in November of 2012

Monday night we hosted a Welcome Home party for Nelson. He arrived to the States from Afghanistan July 17, but he just arrived to our hometown this past Friday. Monday night is an odd day to host a gathering, but it was the only day he had free.

It was a fun evening. We picked up barbecue from our favorite restaurant, and had an assortment of other goodies out.

The guests came from all different parts of our life. Former and current neighbors, a favorite elementary school teacher of our son’s, church friends, family friends, work friends, most of whom had never even met Nelson. All came to welcome him home. We were happy to thank them for their support over the past nine months.

Nelson cut down the ribbon Monday night. Photo by Stanley Leary

Nelson cut down the tired ribbon Monday night.
Photo by Stanley Leary

The highlight of the evening for me came when we went out side so my son could cut the yellow ribbon down from the oak tree out front. When I first put the ribbon up the bow was big fluffy and cheerful. By last night it was dirty, droopy, and sad-looking. I wrote about the ribbon while he was still deployed. The ribbon became a symbol for how I felt inside after 9 months of worry and concern.

Nelson took out a pocket knife and cut the ribbon down at the end of the party Monday night. You can see the relief on my face in the photo my husband took once it was down.

A simple act that took seconds, but reminded us how fortunate we are to have him home.

The ribbon is down. He is home safe. photo by Stanley Leary

The ribbon is down. He is home safe.
photo by Stanley Leary

He’s Home!

Dorie and Chelle hold the Welcome Home banner before entering the gym.

Dorie and Chelle hold the Welcome Home banner before entering the gym.
photo by Stanley Leary

Wednesday, July 17 was a big day for our family. My oldest son returned from a nine month deployment to Afghanistan. It was a tough nine months. Due to the nature of his mission we knew very little of what he was doing or where he was most of the time. Unlike other battalions, his battalion could not post updates and photos to their Facebook page. Before the 17th the last time I heard my son’s voice or saw my son’s face was around Christmas time when we had a quick Skype call. To say we were excited for his homecoming is a major understatement.

Our daughter was attending her church youth group camp this past week. We had to stop by the camp to pick her up on our way to Fort Stewart. On our way tot he car from her cabin I saw something shining on the ground. It was a small coin like piece of metal with the likeness of a Spartan warrior on it. It made me choke up. My son was part of the Spartan platoon during this deployment. I took this as a very good sign.

We checked into our hotel in Savannah for our daughter to change out of her grubby camping clothes then it was off to Fort Stewart. The entire trip I kept checking the Fort Stewart Flight Checker web site to make sure there were no changes. Half way to the base I received a call that the location of the homecoming was changed from Cottrell Field to the gymnasium due to threatening weather. At least the time didn’t change.

Family and friends ready to welcome him home.

Family and friends ready to welcome him home.
photo by Stanley Leary

We arrived almost two hours early, but we weren’t the only ones. Plenty of other families anxious for the arrival of their loved one were filing into the gym too. Veterans from previous conflicts welcomed us into the gym and handed us a small American Flag. I had seen photos of previous homecomings in the gym and decided that a seat near the floor would be the best plan. When you are close to the floor you can get to the soldiers quickly when they are released. Our family sat in the second row, center, saving places for other family and friends to join us. It was fun to meet other families as we waited.

James and Sarah Harrell wait with Chelle.

James and Sarah Harrell wait with Chelle.

Slowly the rest of our group arrived. My ex husband and his wife, with two of my sons good friends sat behind us. Another Citadel classmate and his wife arrived. Then my dear friend and fellow Citadel Mom, Jerri arrived with her daughter Jada.

Jerri helped me tremendously to get ready for this first deployment. Her husband is a master sergeant in the Army and they live close to Fort Stewart. They’ve been through a few deployments. I tried to learn from Jerri what to expect.

L-R Chelle, Jada, Jerri and Dorie wait for the soldiers to arrive.

L-R Chelle, Jada, Jerri and Dorie wait for the soldiers to arrive.

Slowly the stands filled up. The Army band members began to arrive. At some point about an hour before their anticipated arrival a gentleman announced that the soldiers had landed at Hunter Air Field and were loading the buses.

I started posting short updates to Facebook. So many of my friends have prayed for us this year. I wanted them to be a part of this exciting evening. My notifications began lighting up with notes from friends who were following my posts and photo updates.

Soon the announcement was made that they were one mile away. My stomach began to do flip-flops in anticipation.

A General then announced that they were lining up outside. he reviewed how the next few minutes would unfold. It was obvious he understood that after the obligatory uncasing of the colors, a prayer, the National Anthem and the singing of a couple of Army songs, the families really didn’t care what he had to say.

The Genreal gave us instructions. photo by Stanley Leary

The General gave us instructions.
photo by Stanley Leary

Our group along with everyone else in the stands began to comb the faces of the uniformed soldiers in front of us. Our daughter was the first to spot our guy. Once he saw us he gave a slight nod of his head as if to say “sup.”

I honestly can’t tell you what the General said. My heart was racing and my emotions were jumbled between totally excited to teary because the anxious waiting was over. I alternated between wanting to laugh in relief to tears of joy. Stanley moved to the floor to capture of photo of Nelson while he was in formation. Chelle and I made our way to the floor as the General finished his comments.

Taylor, Dorie Nelson and Chelle reunited for the first time. photo by Stanley Leary

Taylor, Dorie Nelson and Chelle reunited for the first time.
photo by Stanley Leary

We ran to our soldier along with a room full of family and friends doing the same thing.

I found Nelson he had a huge grin on his face. That first hug was amazing. He hugged me, then me and Chelle, then my other son, Taylor, arrived and the four of us had a big group hug. Within seconds the rest of our group arrived for their hugs. Everyone was beaming. The photos began to be snapped.

You can see the joy and relief on all our faces. Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

You can see the joy and relief on all our faces.
Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

The local CBS affiliate asked Nelson to make a few comments. His comments didn’t make it on air that night, but Stanley stood there with the camera man and got the interview on tape. We were all a little surprised that our health conscious soldier’s first wish was to go to McDonald’s for a Big Mac!

He gathered his bags as the rest of us waited outside the gym and took more photos. One of the final photos before we headed to his hotel room to continue visiting was of Nelson lifting his baby sister. It is a tradition that started when she was just a toddler. It was a sign that our guy was really home with his family.

My oldest and my youngest reunited. photo by Stanley Leary

My oldest and my youngest reunited.
photo by Stanley Leary

What I’ve Learned During My Son’s First Deployment

I'm inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping. photo by Stanley Leary

I’m inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping.
photo by Stanley Leary

My son’s battalion will return home soon. I’ve looked through my photos and notes about the year. During that time I have mailed over 443 pounds of needed items to both my son, his platoon, and the battalion. That number includes a Christmas mailing providing gift bags for each member of the platoon, a large shipment of items to the battalion headquarters of underwear and socks, as well as Easter, birthday and regular care packages. Putting these mailings together was a community effort. It helped me pass the time by providing helpful items to our soldiers. Many of my friends sent their own boxes. I know my son and his soldiers appreciated their gifts.

In addition to reviewing the notes and photos of mailings, I’ve been reflecting on all that I have learned this year.

I’ll list these in no particular order:

While many people in our community are clueless about what it is like to have a love one deploy, so many others are extremely supportive.

The unexpected ring of the door bell can make your thoughts race and your heart pound.

Missing a Skype call really stinks.

Corresponding via cell phone to a deployed soldier in Afghanistan is amazing.

My friends and many others who read my blog are some of the most supportive and generous people ever!

The battalion commander of my son’s battalion is a very caring person.

The Family Readiness Groups are very supportive. Be sure your soldier lists you as an approved contact so you can get the updates.

There is no way to fully prepare for a child’s deployment.

The pain you feel for a fallen soldiers family is real, but can’t come close to the pain they must feel.

Helping to support deployed soldiers by sending packages and notes of support is a great way to deal with my own anxiety about deployment.

The various Facebook groups for parents/family of deployed soldiers are a good resource, but some have too much drama.

Be careful who you friend on Facebook.

Do not post any information to Facebook that could endanger our deployed soldiers. Cyber stalking does happen.

The extended Army family is amazing.

Some of our deployed troops do not get mail from home. Send extra so your soldier can share. Don’t judge the families. It is expensive to mail boxes, not everyone can afford to send things.

Never under-estimate the joy a roll of soft toilet paper can bring to a deployed soldier.

The single soldiers return to the US without a lot of support. Support the rear detachment office with your donations for welcome home items for the barracks.

The company, Covert Threads, offers great socks at a good price.

Take items out of their original box and put them into zip lock bags. The soldiers have to burn their trash and the bags can be used to keep dust off of other items.

Quite a few companies offer free shipping to APO addresses. Just Google “free shipping to APO” for a list of companies/organizations.

Cigars are appreciated. Island Smoke Shop is a great resource. A Combat Humidor makes a great gift too.

When people ask what they can do to support you and your soldier, keep a list of needed/wanted items handy. Ask people to help supply them.

The people at the local Post Office like to hear how my son is doing.

Many of our soldiers can’t send mail or communicate their thanks, but they are very grateful for our support.

A call, Facebook message, or a photo can make your whole week.

Clean underwear and socks are always appreciated.

Blue Star Mothers, Blue Star Families can be a great support network to plug into.

Memories in Stitches will make a Gold Star banner for a fallen soldier’s family. She also makes Blue Star quilts.

You can find Blue Star pins and flags at a reasonable price online.

As hard as it may be, read up on the potential effects of war on the soldiers and the ones who love them.

An overview of some of the mailings of the past nine months. . . .

Prayyer Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.

The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.

The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.

The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.

Christmas Stockings for soldiers form the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Christmas Stockings for soldiers from the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.

Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.

A variety of silly items from the Dollar Store made for a fun birthday box.

A variety of silly items from the Dollar Store made for a fun birthday box.

We sent some fun items for Easter too.

We sent some fun items for Easter too.

Welcoming the New Cadets and Honoring our Fallen

The Atlanta Citadel Club hosted the annual Cadet send off event June 13. The dinner is the best attended event each year and usually features an address from an administrator on campus.

L-R Cadet Luke Cathy, '14; Tyler Smith, '13; Mike Rogers, CAA; Collin Hicks, '14 Regimental Commander; Michael Escoe, VP, ACC; Col. Leo Mercado, Commandant of Cadets; Col. Joseph Trez, Director Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics.

L-R Cadet Luke Cathy, ’14; Tyler Smith, ’13; Mike Rogers, CAA; Collin Hicks, ’14 Regimental Commander; Michael Escoe, VP, ACC; Col. Leo Mercado, Commandant of Cadets; Col. Joseph Trez, Director Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics.

A few months ago I joined the club as an affiliate member. Due to travel schedules the leadership of the club asked me and the current chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group to help with registration. It was a terrific way to meet everyone as they arrived.

I looked forward to this event each year. I am still in touch with the family I met when I arrived at the send off event before my son began his knob year. As part of the tradition, I take a group photo of the knobs in attendance. See the video the Citadel Alumni Association compiled of the evening.

The Citadel Class of 2017 incoming cadets from Georgia

The Citadel Class of 2017 incoming cadets from Georgia

This year I requested a few minutes on the agenda to ask for support for the homecoming needs of my son’s battalion. Then something really neat happened. I heard from the college roommate of Sgt. Aaron Wittman, a Citadel grad and the fallen soldier from the 3-69. I attended Aaron’s burial in February at Arlington National Cemetery.

A few months ago I read about the foundation set up by his classmates in Aaron’s name. I bought a t-shirt that was made for participants to wear in memory of Aaron during the Cooper River Bridge run. At the time I offered to help get the word out to Citadel parents about Aaron and his Foundation.

Aaron and his parents have been in my prayers since I received word of his death early this year. We have never met, but I felt connected to them once I learned of their connection to The Citadel and because our sons served in the same battalion together. I wanted to write to them, but I never did. That changed the week of the ACC dinner.

Robby Jackson, Aaron’s good friend and classmate emailed me before the dinner. He asked if I would help get the word out to current parents about the Aaron Wittman Foundation. He told me that Aaron’s parents had donated Aaron’s ring to the Band of Gold program administered by the Citadel Alumni Association. His ring will be melted down and be part of the ring the Class of 2014 will receive this Fall. Robby then put me in touch with Duane Wittman, Aaron’s father, so I could learn more about the scholarship fund the foundation will support.

SGT. Aaron X. WIttman photo used with permission Aaron Wittman Foundation

SGT. Aaron X. WIttman
photo used with permission Aaron Wittman Foundation

I was so happy to finally be in touch with this family whom I’ve prayed for. During my recent visit to Fort Stewart my daughter and I took time to stop at the Warrior’s Walk where trees are planted in memory of the Ft. Stewart soldiers who were killed. We went to pay our respects to Aaron and to Rex Schad another 3-69 soldier who gave his life for our freedom. It was an honor to be able to share the photo I took of Aaron’s tree with Duane.

Aaron’s father Duane sent me the following information about the foundation:

First, the Aaron Wittman “07” Scholarship Fund was the wonderful idea and effort of Aaron’s classmates.

The Wittman’s agreed that a Memorial Scholarship was the best way to honor Aaron and his selfless sacrifice and teamed up with his Citadel Classmates to create the Aaron X Wittman Memorial Scholarship.  The Scholarship Operating Board consisting of Aaron’s classmates and the Wittman Family signed the official MOU with The Citadel Foundation on 5 April 2013. 

To date, the endowment level was achieved by 1 June with $52K + on hand and the jump start scholarship dollars are available and will be awarded this year. 

We should reach our goal of  $100k by 31 Dec 2013 and a life-long goal of $250k.

The Goal of the Scholarship is to provide a rising Sophomore Cadet financial support for three years/graduation. 

 Selection criteria:

·         Financial Need is First Priority

·         Achieve 2.0 GPA for Freshman Year

·         Must maintain a 2.5 GPA to maintain Scholarship after award

·         Member of National Guard (desired but not required)

·         Prefer a Cadet who desires a future in the Armed Forces. 

If you would like to support this effort please visit the website: SGT. Aaron X. Wittman, ’07, Scholarship Fund

This video is a great overview of the foundation. The Birth of the Aaron Wittman Foundation

You can also join the Aaron Wittman Foundation Facebook page to receive regular updates.

SGT. Aaron Wittman's tree on Warrior's Walk at Fort Stewart.

SGT. Aaron Wittman’s tree on Warrior’s Walk at Fort Stewart.

 

My daughter takes a few moments to reflect.  Warrior's Walk, Fort Stewart.

My daughter takes a few moments to reflect.
Warrior’s Walk, Fort Stewart.

 

The Deployment Roller Coaster

The roller coaster that is deployment continues. Trying to strike some sort of balance of life at home and supporting/worrying about ddeployed children can be very strange.

In the past few weeks I’ve had a real mixed bag of activities and emotions.

The first week of June my husband daughter and I went on a cruise as part of a celebration for my in-laws 55 wedding anniversary. It was a wonderful trip with lots of fun experiences. I even had the chance to visit the resort where my own parents honeymooned in 1958, Caneel Bay.

An overview of Caneel Bay, St. John, VI

An overview of Caneel Bay, St. John, VI

A small piece of me wondered all week how my deployed son was doing. I wasn’t home so I didn’t have the ever-present startle response when the door bell rings. My younger son was at home working. He had instructions how to reach us in case of an emergency. We never heard from him though.

When we did return, however, I had an email from the Family Readiness Group advising of another loss for the 3-69, the third since January. I don’t know how many of the soldiers in the battalion are injured. In one email the reality of being the family of a deployed soldier came back.

On the heels of that email was the news of four US soldiers being killed near Bagram Airbase near Kabul. It was over 24 hours before I’d learn it wasn’t my son or his battalion. The relief and joy of hearing from my son was tempered by the knowledge that four families were now without their loved ones.

This week we heard from my son quite a bit through private messages on Facebook. Our daughter was thrilled to have a “conversation” with her big brother. She doesn’t talk about it, but her level of concern for her big brother stays very high.

She has grown so much this past school year. I’ll enjoy the surprised look on his face when my son sees his baby sister for the first time when he comes home.

This past weekend in an ongoing effort to help her through her worries, and to support her interest in Indie and alternative music, we attended a concert at a small local venue, Swayze’s. one of the four bands scheduled to appear, Farewell, My Love, had toured with her very favorite band, Late Nite Reading.

Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love in Nov. of 2012. The band called out, "Mom, Mom, you get in here too!" photo by Stanley Leary

Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love in Nov. of 2012. The band called out, “Mom, Mom, you get in here too!”
photo by Stanley Leary

When I first saw the band members of Farewell, My Love, I was a little apprehensive. They wear all black clothes and their hair and make up are reminiscent of the theatrics of some bands from the ’80’s and ’90’s. Once I met them all, I learned they are terrific young guys following their dreams. After seeing them for third time at a concert in Jacksonville, I promised the band members that I’d make a homemade dinner for them their next visit to our area.

Chelle watches over the tailgate table waiting for the guys to have some dinner.

Chelle watches over the tailgate table waiting for the guys to have some dinner.

Saturday night was the time to make due on that promise. We made eggplant parmesan, garlic bread, and chocolate chip cookie bars. Once we arrived at the venue, around 5:00, I set up a card table and put out the food, including a cooler with Red Bull, Coca Cola and water bottles.

It was great fun to see our new friends from the band and meet the other bands too. I didn’t know it was possible for band members to look scarier, then I met the members of Kissing Candace. The lead singer, or as my daughter says, lead screamer, is a guy named Joe. His on stage “look” includes a white contact lens and fake blood.

Joe, of the band Kissing Candace in full make up. I love the contrast of mom and scary looking screamer guy.

Joe, of the band Kissing Candace in full make up. I love the contrast of mom and scary looking screamer guy.

It may seem odd to write about our concert experience along with my feelings around deployment. That is the odd thing about being the family of a deployed service member. Life does go on at home while they are deployed.

On the outside it may look like we are living a normal life. Our internal emotions and thoughts are never far from our deployed loved one.

Our new friends in the bands may seem like polar opposites from our soldier, their hair and make up especially are a stark contrast, but I see some similarities. Providing dinner for these young men was like taking care of my own son. While they don’t have to worry about running over an IED, or being shot at my insurgents, they are away from the comforts of home for long periods of time. To save money, they will sleep in their vans while driving from one city to the next. I am sure their families miss them too.

So we served them some home cooked food, gave them something to drink and had normal conversations. We talked about our deployed son/brother, and they told us about their families. We took a few photos together. In the midst of a pretty unusual setting we had a slice of normal life.

If only for a few hours, we enjoyed the music and the time with new friends. The roller coaster of being the family of a deployed soldier didn’t seem too bad.

Doire visits with Chad and Charlee of Farewell, My Love.

Dorie visits with Chad and Charlee of Farewell, My Love.

Chelle visits with the  lead singer of Farewell, My Love, Ryan Howell.

Chelle visits with the lead singer of Farewell, My Love, Ryan Howell.

Welcome Home Preparations Begin Donations needed

In the near future my son and the rest of the 3-69 AR  will return home. It’s been a tough deployment with several losses, including Sgt. Aaron Wittman, a graduate of The Citadel.

I have volunteered to help get the word out about a couple of projects. The welcome home event for the battalion and the foundation set up to honor the memory of Sgt. Wittman.

Thanks to everyone who donated to the Friends of Speed and Power welcome home basket project. The baskets are assembled and ready to be put into the rooms of single soldiers returning to the barracks. They are now raising funds for the welcome home picnics for each company in the battalion, 5 total. They hope to raise $2,000 to defray the costs of the picnics.

If you would like to help with this effort, please send a check to: Friends of Speed and Power, 3-69 AR BN, Attn: Lt Yamin, 515 Warrior Road, Bldg 648, Fort Stewart, GA  31314

Or through PayPal: freindsofspeedandpower@gmail.com

Logo for the 3rd Battalion 69th Armor Regiment, Speed and Power!

Logo for the 3rd Battalion 69th Armor Regiment, Speed and Power!

A Fan Girl’s Mom Says Thanks

Dorie and Clayton Collins of Late Nite Reading.

Dorie and Clayton Collins of Late Nite Reading.

We are in the last months of my son’s first deployment. It is an emotional roller coaster for all of us, but especially our daughter who is 14.

Chelle and her oldest brother have always been close. I didn’t realize how his pending deployment was affecting her until one day she sang a song she composed. For our daughter, like scores of other young people, music has a way to sooth over the roughest times in their young lives. For our daughter a band out of Indiana, Late Nite Reading (LNR), has been particularly helpful during this deployment.

Chelle first learned of the LNR through an online chat for Harry Potter fans. She began listening to their music, watching their YouTube videos and watching one of the band members YouTube channel, My Life In Color (MILC).

Chelle and the members of Late Nite Reading before their concert in November. photo by Stanley Leary

Chelle and the members of Late Nite Reading before their concert in November.
photo by Stanley Leary

I try to learn about my children’s interests. My two sons like MMA,  and UFC fights. We’ve watched some of these together, quite a stretch for me. When my oldest son decided he wanted a career in the military, I began to study up on how to support him in his dream. My second son loves to cook and has a gift for working with customers. I’ve talked with scores of restaurant owners and bar tenders to learn about that industry. Now my youngest is a “Fan Girl.”

I’ve always loved music and sang in both church and school choirs growing up but I’ve never been a band groupie, until this past year. Last summer Chelle learned that Late Nite Reading would be in Atlanta on a Friday night for a “Meet and greet” at Lenox Square Mall. We were told to meet outside of the Vans store inside the mall. The group was late, but thanks to constant Twitter updates we knew they were on their way. Eventually two young men came to the store and asked the assembled group of about 40 people (mainly young girls and their parents) to follow them out to the parking lot. It seemed pretty strange that we would just follow these two people out to a parking lot where there was a white unmarked van filled with young musicians. What happened next was so much fun. The band spent the next few hours getting photos taken with their fans, playing an acoustic set then autographs and more photos. I don’t think I have ever seen my daughter so excited and happy.

Chelle gave Bryan Stars some Skittles

Chelle gave Bryan Stars some Skittles

Since that Friday night last July I’ve taken her to see them in concert four more times. Most recently this past weekend. They are on tour with Bryan Stars, a young man from the mid-west who has an online presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and his own website. Bryan interviews bands by asking them silly questions, but he also gives the fans an insight into who the band members are.

Late Nite Reading L-R Drew Cottrell, Clayton Collins, Brady Szuhaj, Dalton Wixom

Late Nite Reading
L-R Drew Cottrell, Clayton Collins, Brady Szuhaj, Dalton Wixom
photo by Stanley Leary

 

The concerts are in small venues. They sell VIP tickets so you can get in early to spend some time with the band members and buy their merchandise, called “merch” for seasoned concert goers.   Since my daughter was 13 when her obsession with all things Late Nite Reading I made it a point to know about the band and it’s members. I follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Since the past few concerts I also keep up with a second band they have traveled with called Farewell My Love.

The bands are terrific with their fans, most of whom are in high school or early college years. I’ve gotten to know them a bit as individuals too. What I have learned is this group of young men are incredibly caring and sensitive to their fans. Their tweets and posts can be a bit off-color and not what I’d want my young daughter to read. A few bands look a bit scary with their dramatic make up, but they also post incredibly caring pieces. Brady Szuhaj of Late Nite Reading posted a very encouraging video to his MILC site about not giving up called For Those Struggling. When they meet their fans each member takes time to talk to them, give them a hug and sign what ever they’ve been asked to sign.

On the surface this all looks like fluff. Dig a little deeper and you learn that these young musicians also save lives.

I don’t know why, but there is a sharp increase in the number of young people who feel so isolated and depressed that they are cutting themselves and in some cases go further and attempt suicide.

Chelle and Brady. It was his birthday so Chelle gave him a T-Rex

Chelle and Brady. It was his birthday so Chelle gave him a T-Rex

Band members in Late Nite Reading and Farewell My Love are credited by their young listeners and their parents for saving lives. Just this past weekend I heard a story from a parent of how band members helped save her young daughter by listening to her concerns and encouraging her to stop hurting herself.

These young men are not trained counselors, but some have gone through their own tough times. They encourage their fans to keep going in life. Let them know they care, and after meeting them, I believe they truly do care. I do know how caring they are toward our daughter who worries constantly about her deployed brother.

The band members told me stories of girls sending in their razor blades and vowing not to cut again. That is pretty heavy stuff given that most of the band members haven’t reached their 21st birthday. I admire these young men. The band members care for their fans in ways many of the parents of these fans do not understand.

To celebrate the end of the school year this past weekend we saw the Bryan Stars Tour in Marietta, GA then again in Jacksonville, Florida. For a few days the fun of following this group of bands from Georgia to Florida kept us from being preoccupied with where our deployed soldier is serving. As an added bonus we even heard from our soldier while on the beach in Jacksonville!

I am grateful to the members of Late Nite Reading, their manager, Bernie Szuhaj, the band Farewell My Love, and to Bryan Stars. You are more than entertainers to so many of your fans. This mom of a deployed soldier and “Fan Girl’s Mom” appreciates you.

Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love. THe band called out, "Mom, Mom, you get in here too!" photo by Stanley Leary

Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love. The band called out, “Mom, Mom, you get in here too!”
photo by Stanley Leary

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