Monday, September 24, 2012

The Honor Boot

Gold is good in it's place, but living, brave, patriotic men are better than gold. Abraham Lincoln

A few weeks ago I started following @honorboot on Twitter because it was an organization that honored our military. Twitter is such a great way to support other organizations that are like minded, especially smaller organizations that would be lost in the shuffle. Next thing I knew I received a message that they were sending me one to honor my service to the military, humbled doesn't even begin to express how I felt. I was giddy with excitement and honor.

I received my beautiful boot yesterday and put it on instantly. I LOVE it. I love what it represents and I love honoring our military on a daily basis. The boot is crafted in solid sterling silver to represent the strength, dedication and sacrifice of every America soldier who has ever worn a pair of boots. Each service member in our military is unique however with one thing in common: THEIR COMBAT BOOTS.

Please visit and support The Honor Boot and purchase one of their boots to support our military, a portion of the proceeds from every dollar is given to the Gold Star Mothers of America, an organization that supports the moms of our fallen service members.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Got Your Back Network

“This will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” Elmer Davis
Before my husband deployed, before I knew the fear of ‘the knock on the door’ and before I understood (the best I can) the needs of military widows I became a part of The Got Your Back Network. Got Your Back Network was founded by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Dr. Andy Baldwin who has been honored on the Washington D.C. Most Influential People under 40 list in 2009, and Outside Magazine's Top 100 Influential People of the World list in 2006. His true passion, though, lies with the families of our fallen military. Created after losing 2 friends in the war and seeing the challenges that it posed to their families.
As a fully volunteer organization, we are proud that every dollar donated goes back to fund events and programs for our surviving families. Our goal is to provide the children of our countries fallen service members the opportunity to intimately interact with our country's most talented leaders. Through diverse coordinated events along with one on one interactions with corporate executives, politicians, professional athletes, and entertainers, Got Your Back Network provides the avenue for the children of the fallen to learn and be inspired by the most successful leaders of our generation. We also provide the network for surviving spouses to find the resources that they need. By bringing together small groups of families we are able to create bonds and a family environment needed to lean on each other.
I have loved every moment of being part of this organization and family. Over the past several years I have been a part of Project Gratitude taking widows and their daughters to Miss America, organizing events to see local sporting teams, fundraisers and get togethers. Each event has brought me new friends, an enlarged family and a better understanding of something that is virtually impossible to understand. Each widow that I have met provides and insight and another piece to our network of surviving spouses.
This year, through the urging of several of our surviving spouses, I will begin running to honor the surviving families. My first run will be the San Diego Color Run, a 5k in November. I am currently collecting donations toward this run, all funds will be directed to programs assisting the families of our fallen. Please support me in this endeavor by making a donation.
I am honored to continue my work with the families of the fallen, Got Your Back Network and our military community.

Got Your Back Families on the field at a Padres game

Surviving Spouses being honored at Martini's & Makeovers

Surviving Souses Kylynn and Salina with out founder Dr Andy Baldwin

Striking our best pose at the end of the Miss America Runway for Project Gratitude

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fallen Heroes Dream Ride

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” -- Thucydides, Ancient Greek historian and author, 460-404 BC.

My family and I attend all memorials at Irvine’s Northwoods Gratitude and Memorial Wall as it’s the only standing wall dedicated to honoring the men and women that have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At each holiday remembrance they add the recent names to the walls and they are read individually. This past Memorial Day our daughter read names of service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice, she was so proud to be standing there and honoring them while my husband and I were proud that she wanted to do it. She stood next to the wife of a fallen soldier and read the name on her paper beaming.
Standing in heels on the grass in 100 degree heat on Saturday September 15 was a given, I would have stood there no matter the weather to pay my respects. I attended the Fallen Heroes Dream Ride presentation at Northwoods Gratitude Wall.
The back-story to this 51 Chevy is the showing of a families pride and love in their Marine: For years Lance Cpl. Phillip Vinnedge had talked of getting a classic Chevy truck. Prior to his deployment to Afghanistan he vowed to find and restore one when he returned home. Phillip was not able to fulfill that dream, however in the days following Phillip’s passing the decision was made to fulfill that dream for him by restoring a 1951 Chevy pickup in his, and all fallen heroes honor.
Watching the Irvine Police Department and the Patriot Guard Riders escort this truck was enough to cover my body with goosebumps while waving our American Flags and cheering. I was honored to meet the mother of Lance Cpl. Phillip Vinnedge who was the inspiration behind the Fallen Heroes Dream Ride. We spoke about her son and her pride in what he did, we also spoke about the unplanned stops they have made during their trip from Saint Louis, MO to Irvine, CA and knowing there would be many more on their way home.
Lance Cpl. Vinnedge was part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment deployed to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan which deployed in the fall of 2010. By the time their tour ended in April 2011, the Marines of the 3/5 — known as "Darkhorse" — suffered the highest casualty rate of any U.S. military unit during the war with 25 Marines killed in action and 200 wounded.

The fallen heroes of the 3/5 are:

Oct. 8, 2010: Lance Cpl. John Sparks
Oct. 13, 2010: Lance Cpl. Joseph Rodewald, Lance Cpl. Phillip Vinnedge, Cpl. Justin Cain and Pfc. Victor Dew
Oct. 14, 2010: Lance Cpl. Alec Catherwood, Lance Cpl. Irvin Ceniceros and Lance Cpl. Joseph Lopez
Oct. 15, 2010: Lance Cpl. James Boelk
Oct. 16, 2010: Sgt. Ian Tawney
Nov. 4, 2010: Lance Cpl. Matthew Broehm and Lance Cpl. Brandon Pearson
Nov. 6, 2010: Lance Cpl. Randy Braggs
Nov. 9, 2010: 1st Lt. Robert Kelly
Nov. 10, 2010: Lance Cpl. James Stack
Nov. 24, 2010: Lance Cpl. Arden Buenagua
Nov. 25, 2010: 1st Lt. William Donnelly
Dec. 2, 2010: Sgt. Matthew Abbate
Dec. 6, 2010: Cpl. Derek Wyatt and Pfc. Colton Rusk
Dec. 7, 2010: Sgt. Jason Peto
Dec. 17, 2010: Lance Cpl. Jose Maldonado
Dec. 24, 2010: Lance Cpl. Kenneth Corzine
Dec. 28, 2010: Cpl. Tevan Nguyen
Jan. 20, 2011: Sgt. Jason Amores

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Honoring the families of our fallen

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God's gift, that's why we call it the present. Joan Rivers

We all have a story and a past, things that have defined and shaped us into who we are in the present. I have never let my past define who I am, I embrace the good and the bad and realize that it’s because of struggles that I am the woman I am, for that I am grateful. I am grateful to be alive, I am grateful to have my wonderful family (there are a lot of us!) and I am grateful to be married to my best friend and have the daughter I always dreamed of.

I was raised in a very patriotic family however my parents were not military. My family tree is littered with Army, including Veterans from Vietnam, Korea and both World Wars so pride doesn’t begin to explain how I feel about our country and our military. When my husband and I got married my family was overjoyed to continue the family tradition so to speak... Army Stong. My husband has gone through 6 deployments in 15 years of service most recently to Iraq in 2010/2011. While he was deployed I spent the days knowing the risks we were accepting and that injury or the sacrifice was worth it for the freedom’s of our country.

I have spent majority of my life dedicated to supporting our military in various ways from collecting donations for the VFW Memorial Day Poppy’s to assisting with family readiness because I know the sacrifices that we make as the family of a service member. In 2007 a classmate from High School was killed in Iraq, the effect this loss had on his family and our community was profound. Thinking about his mother never seeing him again but knowing he was killed doing what he loved. Then as a mother the thought hit me about the number of children losing their parent in battle or on the homefront, many so young they didn’t understand where their parent was or why they weren’t coming back. That’s when my focus became the families of our fallen, it's estimated that at least half of our service members killed in action had a spouse and/or children which equals more than 3500 families missing a husband or wife, mother or father. This estimate doesn't include the families who's service member committed suicide due to injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Families that experienced the dreaded knock at the door telling them that their hero wouldn’t be coming home.

I have been a very active Board Member and Spokesperson for the Got Your Back Network for the past 4 years. An organization started by Navy Dr Andy Baldwin to honor his fallen friends has become a home for so many families of the fallen. Between fundraising, event planning or just hanging out with these families has been indescribable and created some of my most cherished friendships. There is not a moment during the day that I am not in some way connected to one or more of my fellow military wives, because once you are a military wife your are ALWAYS a military wife. My promise to them will always be love, respect, commitment, family and honor.

I believe that you wear your true crown in your heart and not atop your head. The crown in my heart and the one on my head are dedicated to the families of our fallen heroes, families that have become heroes and an inspiration to us all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

And so it begins...

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Pageant girls always dream of their crowning moment, when preparation and timing work together, when the judges see your heart and feel that you can represent a title with all you have. We dream of the moment our name is called and we stand on the stage, waving our hands (think Miss Congeniality) and gracefully walk forward and crouch down to accept the crown. This is the moment I have dreamed of that since 1989 when I stood on stage at a mall in San Bernardino praying that the judges would think I was pretty enough to be crowned ‘Junior Miss Carousel Mall’ but that day wasn’t my day and my string of 1st Runner up began. Each loss brought a learning experience and even though I didn’t compete consistently I took so much from every placement. Each time I heard the runner up speech, “If for ANY reason the new queen can’t fulfill her duties the 1st runner up with takeover”, I would pray that my name wasn’t the next one called. Then each time I would hear, “Your first runner up is Shana ...”, and I would gracefully step to the side for the new winner to have her moment in the spotlight. Through the years I have learned that by having that spot I was able to learn about myself, I was able to be mentored by the winner and my coaches and I was able to make friends along the way that I may not have otherwise. I was blessed without always realizing it; Never let a win get to your head, or a loss to your heart.

When Grant and I were first married I competed for Mrs. California International, my first Mrs pageant and fell in love with their message. I loved that my brain and passion was being judged more than my measurements. I competed a few more times in a different system, I learned so much about how to compete and be my best self without winning (yet placing 1st runner up twice in a row!) When my husband deployed in 2010 and returned 15 months later I decided to take the time to be a family and no longer compete... that lasted 1 year and then it happened. Mrs. California International was coming up, the title that I had dreamed of for so long. We had a family discussion and I talked it over with some of the surviving spouses that I know then decided to enter in honor of the surviving spouses of our fallen military. Win, lose or draw this was going to be my last pageant because the title of Soccer Mom was taking over. I showed up with the expectation of having a great time, meeting some inspirational women and the hope that I won.

After countless hours of rehearsals, more laughing that you’d ever believe (Mrs contestants are

pretty funny!), my daughter winning her 1st soccer game and 3 areas of competition it was time for judges tabulations and crowning. Phew what a whirlwind weekend. Those last few moments before we got back on stage I sat backstage with Tiffany Allen discussing how we felt. We had views that were the same, we both put it all out there, did our best and now it was in God’s hands. We smiled at each other and wished each other luck then lined up for crowning.

Each award was called in division order, Teen then Miss and finally Mrs. I clapped and was so excited for each winner, Interview, Photogenic, Congeniality and People’s Choice... all very deserving women that I can’t say enough nice things about. Then it came time to crown our state titleholders and my heart skipped a beat. First was our wonderful teens, congratulations to Jayne Geist Miss Teen California International (I saw her crowned as Miss Junior Teen International in 2008), then came Miss California International, TIFFANY ALLEN (You can follow her blog here)... I admit my heart stopped for her because we had just spoke about Gods timing and I love her platform of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Finally it was our turn... all 8 of the Mrs. contestants were on pins and needles. They announced the Second Runner up, Stacy (who I LOVE and admire... she was my pre-fitness workout buddy!), then the 1st Runner up Jennifer (I can’t say enough about her, she has an amazing platform AND is a Disney Princess) which is when I looked at my darling husband sitting in his uniform and thought Oh My Gosh could this be my year?! Your new Mrs. California International 2013 is .... Shana Smith! My mind went completely blank, I think I screamed, I know I cried and as soon as my husband hit the stage I was in his arms thanking him for being him which is when he reminded me that I needed to be crowned center stage. I couldn’t believe that this was my moment but more than that as he was crowning me it was OUR moment. It was one more moment in our lives that will forever be etched in my mind as ours.

It’s been 10 days and I am still in shock... I am Mrs. California International 2013 and I am going to be representing my state at Mrs. International next summer. I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity to share my passion for assisting families of our fallen military within our great state and nation. I am looking forward to having a wonderful year with my sister queens and being a part of this unbelievable International Pageant Family!


Prayer Circle
Trish Higgins Photography

In total Disbelief!
Trish Higgins Photography

I am so lucky to have shared OUR moment with my wonderful husband
Trish Higgins Photography

My crowning moment
Trish Higgins Photography

Top 3 Mrs: Jennifer Tomasick and Stacy Lugo
Trish Higgins Photography
A very lucky woman with her WONDERFUL family!
Trish Higgins Photography