Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bright and early... without the bright at the Neverland 5K

“The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
John Bingham, No Need for Speed: A Beginner's Guide to the Joy of Running

7 weeks ago Grant and I signed up for the Neverland 5k at Disneyland We have never run together but thought that it sounded like fun and was for a great cause, we were running with the TAPS Run to Remember team.  We looked forward to it so much, talked about it frequently and discussed that I should probably start training for it. 

Well... Saturday morning was the Neverland 5K at Disneyland.  Oh yes, my non running (lack of training) self was there with some great company.  Grant was supposed to run with my however due to the early race time he stayed home with Krystina as we both knew that there was NO way she was going to get up at 3:30am to run.  I honored both of our service members through my run: PFC Kelly McGuire (incidentally Kelly is my middle name and I am very proud of it so I think this was fate!) and SGT Clayton Dunn II. 

Before the run I emailed with PFC McGuire’s mother Lurlene and learned a little more about this remarkable young man who was also her only son.   She is quite a wonderful woman with pride a mile long – she even cheered me along on FB during the run!  I look forward to honoring him with each of my future runs.

So bright and early... well 4:30am so NOT bright at all... I met up with my friends from TAPS; Salina, Kylynn, Marie and Jennifer along with Salina’s sister to hit the start line and go.  We watched Tickerbell fly through the Disneyland fireworks, listened to the National Anthem while they turned the Disneyland Castle Red, White and Blue and giggled with anticipation and excitement.  Ready to run like the wind in my TAPS shirt (borrowed from Salina, the shirt she wore when she ran the Great Wall of China, no pressure here), with photos of Kelly and Clayton on the back and matching American Flag socks  I got instantly overwhelmed – what if I couldn’t run the entire thing (as previously stated I am NOT a runner), if I didn’t run the ENTIRE thing was I letting down their memory... I got a knot in my throat and wanted to cry however I looked around me – I looked at the picture of Kylynn’s husband Nathan on her back, the picture of TAPS founder Bonnie Carrol’s husband on Marie’s back and the picture of Salina’s husband David on hers and realized that the run was to honor them but they didn’t care if I ran every single step as long as with each step I was remembering them and their sacrifice.  I was still scared but calmed in that moment.  Then the countdown and the start line – off and running.

Throughout the run, Kylynn encouraged me to keep running and stayed with me... crossing the finish line together was wonderful.  We waited for our entire group, took photos and headed home.  I love being around these wonderful women, having friends like them is what it’s all about...
We were about 1/3 of the way back - there were even more people behind us

Kylynn and I at the FINISH line

Honoring PFC McGuire and SGT Dunn II

Saturday, January 19, 2013

13 Folds of the flag

Friendships are what makes the world go round and I am a VERY blessed girl.   

I met Kylynn in May at Martini’s & Makeovers, a Got Your Back Network fundraiser honoring surviving spouses.  She was quiet and calm with a light about her; when Salina introduced us I felt something about her.  As I heard her story and got to know her more I felt a connection with her, there were things I understood and her light made sense. 

I have talked to her about Nathan on several occasions - her love and husband.  I have heard many things about him but in her words I wanted to share:

Nathan is the best thing that ever happened to me. We attended the same high school, and had many mutual friends, but never actually met until he returned from boot camp. We were instantly attached at the hip. He was handsome, smart, and just plain goofy. He was a big kid at heart and that is one thing I miss the most about him. He could always make me laugh, and had a good time doing it! His fellow Marines called him "smiley" because he always had a huge grin on his face, even if they were stacking sandbags for no apparent reason in the middle of the dessert. He loved running, animated movies, mountain biking, video games, playing guitar, Chinese food, Yoo Hoo chocolate milk, anything to do with Marvel super heroes, and working at Toys R Us during Christmas. He had a soft spot for helping others, especially kids. We dated for three years before we finally tied the knot, a week before he left for deployment. 

Every day I am reminded of some silly little thing that I miss about him. He taught me so much about myself, about love, and about life in general. Through both his life and death he has shaped me into the person I am today, and for that I am grateful.
From Marine Cpl Nathan Maxwell obituary

He was united in marriage on March 27, 2009, in Jefferson City, to Kylynn Michelle Hill who survives.

In 2005 Nathan enlisted with the
United States Marine Corps Reserves. He recently returned from Iraq in February with the rank of Corporal.

Nathan was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Nathan enjoyed working out, running, computer games, movies, fishing, spending time at the lake, golfing, listening and playing music, comic books, and most especially spending time with his family. Nathan was a happy and loving child and husband, and grew into a deeply compassionate young man. Nathan was a man who loved to serve for others. He was loved greatly and words cannot express how much he will be missed.

Kylynn didn't have the flag that was atop Nathan's casket.  The reason was not because it was never presented rather a decision in a moment that undoubtedly was caused by her own strength. She was fortunate enough to give Nathan a funeral with full military honors, and although the ball was dropped many times the one thing they did right was removing the flag from the casket, folding it and presenting it to her. His mother was handed an extra flag, but his father (they were divorced when Nathan was 1) did not receive one. After receiving her flag, Kylynn immediately walked to his father and handed it to him. It was probably one of the hardest decisions she had made, especially because his father proceeded (flag in hand) to blame he for Nathan's death. While Nathan’s father may never admit it, Kylynn knows in her heart that her action meant a lot and that Nathan would have been proud of her decision.  This gesture is what brought us all to the American Legion in Montebello that night. 

On December 9 I attended a very special ceremony; one that I have never witnessed before but will forever stay with me.  Kylynn finally received a folded flag in honor of her husband Cpl Nathan Maxwell.  The night was a surprise to her, she wasn’t told who would be there or why she was going.  When she showed up, looking radiant, with a photo of her husband Nathan framed in her arms she was greeting by a small group of friends and the American Legion.

As Gold Star Wife President Salina Jimenez began reading the significance of the 13 folds of the flag as it was folded, her voice cracked but she kept going... her strength and her husband’s will with her all the way.  I quietly watched the flag being folded, saluted and handed to a marine in his dress blues who then handed the flag to Kylynn, “On behalf of a grateful nation.”  As I took pictures, my eyes filled with tears I knew that moment was something that I will never forget.  Marine Cpl Nathan Maxwell is a man that I never met yet a man that I know from his wife, I know from his photo and a man that I have great admiration for.    

After the ceremony several of us went to dinner; we laughed, we cried and we laughed some more.  There are moments in life that you look in on, moments that you see yourself experiencing and know that it will never be better than this.  I looked at the people at the table and realized that I have wonderful people in my life and I hope to provide them the friendship that they have so willingly given to me. 

There have been almost 7000 service members killed in combat during the last 11 years our country has been at war and the number of suicides is rapidly increasing. 
In all, 349 service members in all branches of the US Military committed suicide in 2012, up 15 percent from 301 suicides in the military in 2011, AP reported, citing a Pentagon source. The number of US Military suicides in 2012 exceeded the total combat fatalities in Afghanistan in 2012, which the AP calculated at 295 deaths.  

Please don’t forget the families missing their hero today and every day.

As the flag is folded, for each fold recite the following:

Fold 1: The 13 stripes represent the original 13 states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island

Fold 2: The 50 stars represent our 50 United States of America

Fold 3: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death", Patrick Henry

Fold 4: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman", Thomas Paine

Fold 5: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", Declaration of Independence

Fold 6: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America", United States Constitution

Fold 7: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances", First Amendment

Fold 8: "The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government", George Washington

Fold 9: "My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!" Thomas Jefferson

Fold 10: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal", Abraham Lincoln

Fold 11: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door", Emma Lazarus, inscription on the Statue of Liberty

Fold 12: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country", John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Fold 13: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character", Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Project Gratitude & our Honorary Miss America's

It's an absolutely humbling experience to have literally hundreds of people looking at you with their eyes telling a story of thei
r own hopes and dreams.... There's a feeling that what you have attained for yourself--although only relatively short-lived, for a year--is a lifetime venture. It's a feeling of destiny.  Laurel Lee Schaefer Miss America 1972

Each year I am part of a team that spends MONTHS planning 1 event however this one event is worth every bit of it.  Each year the Got Your Back Network takes 8-10 families of surviving spouses and daughters of our fallen heroes to Las Vegas for 4 days with the culmination of the trip being the Miss America pageant.  This is my 3rd year as part of this trip and each year my role has grown.  The first year I felt that I was there more as a volunteer and observer however this year I was a larger part of the planning, the family contact and each event in Las Vegas.  I must say that calling each family to invite them was a highlight; one family cried then another just screamed – I can’t stop smiling just thinking about those calls.
Our guests and volunteers traveled from around the country into Las Vegas Thursday January 10, courtesy of American Airlines. Each family stayed at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, home of the Miss America Pageant (and to one young ladies excitement, Coco from Ice T and Coco was there as well).  At our Thursday night dinner we were treated by a special guest, Chris Harrison from The Bachelor and 3 service members from the Joint Chiefs of Staff office as well as 2 local Miss America and MAOT titleholders.  A great way to get to meet each other face to face and see the excitement for what was coming next.     

On Friday each family participated in a photoshoot at the El Dorado Mines in Nelson, NV.  We had such a good time touring the mines, then each mother and daughter had their hair and makeup done before their individual photo shoots.  The town has been host to photo shoots and video shoots for Luke Bryan and Beyonce!   Cheyane, daughter of 2nd LT Mark Gelina, recreated the cover shot of Luke Bryan’s CD with the help of Joe-Bec whose family owns and operates the mines. 

Friday night after a wonderful dinner at the Rattlecan, a wonderful restaurant inside of the Venetian the mom’s and older girls were treated to the Rock of Ages musical show while our younger princesses took part in a Princess Pajama party.  Everyone had such a wonderful time and we were passing cell phones of pictures down the line to show each mom the fun her daughter was having. This was another late night but seeing the smiles and hearing all the laughter makes it worth it... besides it’s VEGAS!

Former Miss America's, honored families of our fallen on stage for a group picture
Our VIP families were then royally pampered Saturday at the Canyon Ranch Spa, had a mini trunk show of gowns, received gift bags of donations from some amazing companies just before each young lady was crowned.  Then off to change and head to Miss America for another big surprise...each family was honored in the Miss America preshow!  They walked across the Miss America stage while a short biography was read about their loved one, they received a special coin from Col Henderson and LTC Forbes and were then ‘pinned’ as an honorary Miss America.  The audience listened to each introduction so intently and I was humbled and proud of each families strength.  As the families made their way back to our AWESOME seats they were met with another standing ovation... I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

After the pageant and our good-byes (everyone had different flights out Sunday), Kathleen and I headed out to enjoy the sights in Vegas a bit.  We met up with a few friends and next thing we knew we were taking photos with the new Miss America Mallory Hagen!  First I want to say that she is the sweetest young woman and seems incredibly down to earth, second of all we had no intention of meeting anyone besides our friends we had dressed down for the night and here we were taking a photo in our JEANS!  Good grief!  We also ran into Janice McQueen my friend and director of the Mrs CA & NV United States Pageant, then Gaspar Cruz and Miss WY Lexie Madden (another young lady that seems you could meet up with for a burger or a black tie gala).   Kathleen and I along with the COL and LT Col were attended the ‘Formers’ get together where I was excited to meet Lee Meriwether and Leanza Cornett along with Heather French and many others; I may not have to point this out however this was a pageant girls DREAM as I watched so many of these women get crowned and looked up to them.

I left Las Vegas bright and early Sunday morning, flew home and then drove 2 hours to central California to be part of my husband’s Army promotion.

As with each year I am so grateful to be part of an organization that makes events like this possible, being able to meet so many wonderful women and their daughters and knowing in my heart that my family just got a little bit bigger.  I am also thankful to all of our wonderful and generous sponsors each year because without you no part of this would be possible.  I am already planning ideas for NEXT YEAR!  I wish our new Miss America, Mallory Hagen, a wonderful year of memories and service.

Cheyane meeting Coco and her sister at Planet Hollywood
Chris Harrison and I at Thursday night's dinner
with their Girl ExtraOrdinaire gift bags