Saturday, August 25, 2007

Feedom Isn't Free!

Thanks to Mary Grant for the following. Mary's a fellow Blue Star Mother.

My mother-in-law is a past president of the Springfield Garden Club. She sent me this today. I thought I would continue to share the good things that are happening out there.
Mary Grant

Dear Friends:
I was privileged to attend a Blue Star Memorial Dedication at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on August 12, 2007. These markers are along the highways and byways throughout Illinois honoring our Veterans and sponsored by Garden Clubs of Illinois. They work with IDOT to place these throughout Illinois. There were many speakers but Mrs Jimmie Meinhhardt, the National Blue Star Chairman, by far gave the best speech about our Veterans . She gave permission to use it and I would like to share it with you.
Soldiers, not reporters gives us freedom of press;
Soldiers, not poets five us freedom of speech;
Soldiers , not judges give us the right of trial by jury;
Soldiers, not lawyers give us the freedom to peaceably assemble;
Soldiers, not ministers give us the freedom of religion;
Soldiers, not lawmakers give us the right to vote as we choose;
Soldiers, not merchants give us the freedom to keep and bear arms;
And it is soldiers, not the United States Senate who guarantees us the right to stand together, say the "Pledge Of Allegiance: and leave in the words " under God".
We are here today to pay tribute to these soldiers by dedicating this Memorial to them for the sacrifices they have made for us.
It is with pride and remembrance that the National Garden Clubs, Inc. Joins with The Garden Clubs of Illinois to dedicate the BLUE STAR BY-WAY MARKER which stands as a symbol.
I was so moved by this speech. I feel that especially in this time in our Country, that this should be shared with others. We need to support, not tear down, those who give us the freedoms that we enjoy every day.
Sally Noble
Springfield Civic Garden Club President

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Hero On Board

** Vicki's note: I copied this from a blog I follow. This particular blogger has recently returned from Iraq and was a member of my son's unit at FOB Hammer. It was posted to his blog Aug. 22, 2007.

Today’s flight from Atlanta to Richmond started off fairly normal.

We all boarded the flight (I was in “Zone 5"). I took my seat (emergency exit row, window, my favorite) and stuffed my stuff under the seat in front of me.

As everybody else filed onto the plane and took their seats, I thumbed through the latest edition of Wired magazine, tired from an early morning drive to the Altanta airport, and knowing I had a busy day ahead of me.

Once everybody had settled in, the pilot stood at the front of the cabin and took over the PA system.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks for flying with us today. I’d like you all to know we’re flying with an American hero today.”

With that the pilot introduced a young Army Specialist, who was flying home from Iraq on his R&R. The entire plane burst into a supportive and appreciative round of applause.

After the pilot thanked the Specialist for his service, a passenger sitting in first class offered to trade seats with the young soldier.

It was one of those moments that touches your heart and makes you appreciate all the things we have in life. Much of it is due to the soldiers who fight for us every day.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Soccer Balls and Beanie Babies!

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMAYAH — Before she deployed, Spc. Diana Sokol used to listen to Soldiers tell stories about how Iraqi children asked them for soccer balls and other items.

She would see photos of kids in the city with virtually nothing but the clothes on their back and always knew she would take action once deployed.

So when the medic from Plano, Texas, and member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, attached to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based out of Fort Benning, Ga., arrived here, she started her goodwill mission.

Sokol’s mission of goodwill included helping to secure soccer balls and other toys for children caught up in the war, even though she may never be able to personally pass them out herself with her duties as a medic keeping her at her forward operating base.

“There is more than just fighting a war, we are supposed to help the Iraqis while we are here as well,” she said.

To date, Sokol has acquired more than 300 soccer balls and 500 hundred stuffed animals that were distributed to children within the “Strike Force Brigade’s” area of operation.

She said she’s nowhere near finished.

“Americans are very generous and would often send gift boxes of supplies to me, which I really appreciate, but how many bars of soap and toothpaste can you use on one deployment?” Sokol asked.

She started asking her friends and family to send toys for the children instead. At first, the toys came in sporadically which was easy to maintain, but after a while, it got a little out of control and space became an issue.

By word of mouth, information spread quickly through her family, friends and their co-workers and more people started to donate. A friend of Sokol’s, who works at Texas Instruments, started a toy drive and was able to collect over 500 soccer balls during the drive, the biggest one-time donation to date.

Numerous other small businesses like soccer shops in the Dallas Fort Worth area, along with individual donations, also helped immensely. Beanie Babies Ambassadors alone donated 300 stuffed animals to be shipped, and soon Sokol’s room became a small warehouse.

“I will continue to give out toys for as long as I am here and hopefully someone else will continue,” Sokol said. “Now, units come to me before going out on missions asking for toys and soccer balls for the kids.

“I don’t believe all Iraqis don’t care for Americans,” she said. “It’s just a small group of individuals that continue placing IEDs that make the general population look bad and I don’t want the children to suffer because of it.”

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Peace through Puppets

Good News from Iraq: 9 Aug 2007

From MNF-I, Puppets help U.S. troops reach out to children in Baqubah.

BAQUBAH — During a recent mission with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Soldiers in Stryker vehicles entered Buhriz, near Baqubah, prepared for a firefight.

Two Stryker vehicles blocked the street. Soldiers scanned the vicinity, checked roof tops for signs of the enemy, and cleared the building before entering.

Inside, eight-year-old Iraqi school children looked on in shock, as the U.S. Soldiers went through their school with weapons at the ready.

Two terrified little girls attempted to exit the classroom as the Soldiers made their way through the school.

This reaction was something 1st Sgt. Bruce Reges, first sergeant for Company C, 431st Civil Affairs Battalion, from Little Rock, Ark., was not accustomed to.

The National Guardsman and part-time college professor from Big Rapids, Mich., was accustomed to walking into a classroom to find students eager to learn, not run away from him.

“They see us as extremely (good) at what we do – finding the enemy and destroying their ability to fight,” said the 55-year-old. “Innocents get caught in the crossfire. The bad guys tell the kids we will kill them if we catch them.”

Reges came up with a way to help ease their fears when dealing with Soldiers.

“We needed some way to let them know we are human too – fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers,” Reges said. “So, I thought two small puppets in my cargo pocket would be helpful in bridging the gap.”

He said that if the children could see U.S. troops as human beings, they would be less afraid to see Soldiers in their town.

And that is how the pocket puppets idea was born. With the help of his 80-year-old mother, Jean Reges-Burn, the idea has sparked a movement to supply puppets to other civil affairs and medical Soldiers working in Baqubah. They call the outreach program “Peace Through Puppets”.

Reges initially distributed two-dozen stuffed animal hand puppets to Soldiers in his unit. He said the puppets have helped Soldiers build hope, extend compassion and overcome the language barrier.

“When I see a child, I stop and reach into my cargo pocket. I pull out a small puppet. The reaction is immediate,” Reges said.

He said the response has been nothing but positive from children and the adults that are with them at the time they receive the small gesture of peace.

So far, Regis estimates he has given out about 200 pocket puppets.

“I feel small things will make the difference here. This is a small thing, but you never know where it will end.”

“Peace Through Puppets” is a volunteer, non-profit organization staffed by mothers, wives and friends of Soldiers serving in Iraq. For additional information, log on to or e-mail

Monday, August 6, 2007


Itinerary for “Fight for Victory Tour”

You can suggest an ideal rally location for any of the cities we are stopping in, or request more information by emailing us at:

(Day 1) Monday Sept 3 2007

Carson City, NV Rally Start 9:00AM

Sacramento, CA Rally Start 1:15 PM

San Francisco, CA Rally Start 5:15 PM

Modesto, CA Rally Start 8:15 PM

(Day 2) Tuesday Sept 4 2007

Leave Modesto, CA 8:00 AM

Fresno, CA Rally Start 10:00 AM

Los Angeles, CA Rally Start 3:15 PM

San Diego, CA Arrive at Hotel 8:15 PM

(Day 3) Wednesday Sept 5 2007

San Diego, CA Rally Start 9:00 AM

Yuma, AZ Rally Start 1:00 PM

Phoenix, AZ Rally Start 5:00 PM

Arrive Tucson, AZ Hotel 8:15 PM

(Day 4) Thursday Sept 6 2007

Tucson, AZ Rally Start 9:00 AM

Las Cruces, NM Rally Start 4:00 PM

El Paso, TX Rally Start 6:15 PM


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Celebrating Jesse

Bonnielee was honored to attend Jesse Lata's funeral; she sent me an email which I hope she doesn't mind if I share:

I was going to tell you about the funeral yesterday; but I needed a little time to digest it, cherish it, and, thank God for such a wonderful human being. Salette (and her husband) had MANY, MANY supporters. The place was full to standing room only and included some of Jesse's doctors and nurses. In fact, it didn't seem like it was an obligatory medical representation; it seemed like there were several there because they just wanted to be. I represented Blue Star Mothers of America, Arizona Chapter 2, and Carol sent an arrangement of flowers ... from the Blue Star Mothers!! I knew she was going to send flowers with me, but I didn't know she was going to send them from our GROUP.

Jesse was born into a military family (Air Force) and wanted to be in the military since he was little. I'm thinking he chose the Army because of his involvement in junior ROTC. But between being little and getting to ROTC, he'd been many places and seen many things. I'm guessing that was MOSTLY due to his dad's military career and I say that only because of my experiences with military life. I compare where I've been and what I've done with before I became a military wife and after I became a military wife. I guess what I mean to say is that many of his experiences went far beyond the normal "family vacation." And he was an achiever!! He earned his Open Water Diver certification at age 12--and that's only because the minimum age to do so was 12! He attended junior high school in Boise, Idaho, where he first joined junior ROTC and then finished at CDO. He was involved in the culinary arts ... "he loved to cook -- and EAT!!" Jesse first contracted leukemia in his junior year of high school. He was in treatment for 5 months. He graduated in 2003, received his Emergency Medical Technician Certificate from Pima Community College and attended the U of A.

He "fulfilled his dream of becoming a soldier by enlisting in the 208th Transportation Company, U.S. Army Reserve in 2003, completed training at Ft. Jackson, S.C. in the summer of 2004, completed his military driver training in MS in early 2005, reported to Ft. Bliss, TX I the summer of 2005, and was deployed to Iraq soon after. While he was there, he had a relapse of the leukemia. Was sent to Germany, then to Walter Reed Hospital, then to University Medical Center in Tucson where he received a cord blood transplant on March 31, 2006."

From what I understand, he was in the hospital for 21 months with the exception of 30 days. I don't know if they were 30 consecutive days or just 30 days total. Salette was with him 24/7 when he was hospitalized ... when he wasn't in the hospital, he even campaigned for his dad who was running for a congressional seat! Jesse never complained about his illness or the treatment ... not the first time, and not this last time. He was one awesome guy ... AND he served our country in spite of the challenges!

What an honor to learn about him!

Note: Special thanks to Carol Herndon and her shop, The Winding Rose in Oracle, for the beautiful flowers

Friday, August 3, 2007

What a Woman!

By Chip Womick -- Staff Writer, The Courier-Tribune
Posted: 07/29/07 - 08:58:08 pm CDT

FRANKLINVILLE — One day an Army truck parked outside Audrey McKinnon’s house prompted a neighbor to ask her what was going on.

She confided that there were 50 soldiers out in the woods waiting for her and drooling.

McKinnon, who is 75, was being funny.
But what she’d said was true.

Several times a year, for several years, McKinnon has fed soldiers involved in Operation Robin Sage, a military training exercise for Special Forces troops out of Fort Bragg that is staged in several central Piedmont counties four times a year.

The role-playing exercise, set in a fictional country called Pineland, includes mock assaults, kidnappings and reconnaissance by the soldiers in training to become Green Berets. They have limited pre-packaged rations during their days in the woods.

When the training in this area is done, McKinnon starts cooking in her small kitchen, the room in her home where she says she spends most of her time. She’ll whip up chicken and dumplings for 40 or 50, or fried chicken (with the help of her son-in-law and his deep fryer), or several hams, or some other main course. She will prepare all of the required Southern fixings — mashed potatoes, green beans, pintos, and such, and, naturally, some kind of bread.

The home-cooked food is delivered to the soldiers in the field.

And they eat like there’s no tomorrow. “They love it,” she said in a recent interview. “They’re out there about to starve.”

Her culinary contributions are appreciated. Framed certificates of appreciation from the Army fill one corner of her kitchen. There are more in another room. Soldiers have given her floppy camouflage hats, caps and even pants.

She has a hat signed by all the participants in one training group and a jacket signed by members of another. Another group of soldiers found a turtle shell, painted it gold, and signed it. Still others put their John Hancocks on a piece of wood. One creative group made her a dreamcatcher.

Last summer, McKinnon received a Commander’s Award for Public Service — and a small medal that she keeps in a box. The Department of the Army commendation reads, in part:

“As a long-serving and prominent member of the Pineland Civilian Auxiliary, your devoted effort to support Field Training Exercise Robin Sage has improved the readiness and training of every Special Forces soldier you came in contact with ...”

McKinnon appreciates the praise, but she appreciates the opportunity to serve even more.

“I feed them,” she said, “and most of the time I try to see that they’ve got a clean pair of socks, too. It’s something that I enjoy doing. A lot of people enjoy traveling or playing golf. Me, I’m doing what I enjoy doing.”

She got involved in Robin Sage after a neighbor, who had been monitoring training communications via short-wave radio, learned about “a jump” that was going to take place. He asked McKinnon if she wanted to go watch. They went and met the soldiers.

Later, they were invited to a pig pickin’ at the end of the training. McKinnon was dumbfounded when she went to the pig pickin’ and the only food was a cooked pig. She asked the commanding officer where all the “sides” were. He told her that next time, she could make them if she wanted. McKinnon has been a Robin Sage volunteer — a member of the Pineland Civilian Auxiliary — ever since.

Her husband, Neal McKinnon, died in 1992. He was a soldier. Wounded during World War II, he limped for the rest of his life. He also served during the Korean War. McKinnon said she’d like to think that someone may have helped him once like she now helps Robin Sage participants.

“I thought this could be my part,” she said. “I couldn’t be in the service now, but if I could help them a little bit, it makes a difference.”

She was raised with eight brothers and sisters in a two-story log house at the foot of Purgatory Mountain in southern Randolph County, near the future site of the N.C. Zoo. She dropped out of school to help care for younger siblings, planning to return to the books, but never got around to it. Instead, she went to work in a Randleman mill at age 16.

When she was young, the battery for the family’s radio was nearly as big as the device itself. They stored food in an ice box — kept cold by the block of ice her father bought at the ice plant in Asheboro. They kept crocks of milk in a box built at a nearby spring where the family got water.

McKinnon is amused when she hears youngsters today talk about having their own room — and some privacy. “We didn’t even know what that word meant,” she said. “We slept with a bed full. But we kept warm.”

She remembers when electric service was extended to her rural childhood home. In the beginning, a single bare bulb, hanging on a cord from the center of the ceiling, lit a room.

At 21, she married a Franklinville fellow named Neal McKinnon she’d met after her family moved to the little mill town when she was a teen. She worked at Franklinville’s Randolph Mills for many years in many departments — winding, warping, spinning.

Later, she joined the workforce at Acme-McCrary Corp., retiring after 30 years. She held a variety of jobs at the Asheboro hosiery mill, including a position in the lab, an opportunity McKinnon got, she said, because, although she dropped out of school, she has never quit learning.

After she retired, she got a call asking if she would come back and oversee the Acme-McCrary employee shop and work in the fitness center at the gym. She did that for eight years, until the shop was closed about a week ago.

She’s not likely to get bored, or be idle, in retirement.

She helps businessmen Jim Peters and Vance Davis put together a Christmas meal for area senior citizens and homebound residents in and around her adopted hometown. The effort has grown so much that others help with the meal at the Franklinville firehouse. She also is pitching in on the effort to raise money to build a new town library.

Neal and Audrey McKinnon used to collaborate in a small back-yard enterprise restoring antique furniture. She does not do that anymore, but in recent years has devoted time to making stuffed animals using socks. Her late aunt, Violet Woodell, used to make the sock monkeys so she’s carrying on a family tradition of sorts. Lately she has been experimenting with making sock hobbyhorses too.

McKinnon gives the little monkeys away, sometimes as gifts for baby showers. Some of her soldier buddies have even been recipients. If a child who knows she makes them asks for one, McKinnon says, “I’m not going to give you one, but I’ll help you make one.” That way, she said, the youngster gets a monkey and a sewing lesson.

A couple of years ago, she took advanced swimming lessons at the McCrary fitness center gym, where she still swims regularly. She also goes to aerobics classes at the center a couple of mornings a week.

She’s not averse to trying new things either. Earlier this year, she took a cruise to Nassau with her niece Linda Cagle. While in the Bahamas, she was fascinated by the parasailing. Encouraged by her niece, she took a turn up in a parachute being pulled by a boat.

“I’m gonna do the things I want to do, that I never got to do growing up,” she said.

An Army representative always calls McKinnon a couple of weeks before soldiers are due in the area for Robin Sage training.

“Miss Audrey, you want to help out?” the caller asks.

The answer, of course, is yes.

In fact, McKinnon long ago told her new Army buddies that she would be glad to keep on cooking, but that she also was interested in an expanded role during the training. Now she does more than cook during the exercises, although McKinnon said she’s not at liberty to talk about that part of her volunteer work.

She spends a few days with each group of soldiers, then they are gone. Her refrigerator is covered with photographs of family, friends and soldiers she has met, young men who are about the age of her grandchildren. She thinks about them often.

“Every time you hear of a group getting killed,” she said, “you wonder, was that one of mine?”

**Thanks to Vet66 for this great article.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Join the Surge of Support for our Troops

Note from Vicki:
"...what gives us the greatest concern is the constant criticism..."
Regardless of your political leanings, this is a great idea and I hope other campaigns join in. Video is two-minutes long.

Mitt Romney is urging a "surge of support" for the troops and featuring a number of great organizations which serve the military at his website.