Military Community Finds Strength in Gold Star Mothers

A 2012 Gold Star Mothers Day display at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. DOD photo

A 2012 Gold Star Mothers Day display at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. DOD photo

After 14 years of war, the bonds of America’s military community have been strengthened by the tempered hearts of a group of mostly civilians: Gold Star Mothers.

These mothers, along with the rest of the surviving families of service members who’ve died, often find strength in their military support network. They stay connected through organizations like the USO and TAPS, which help these families through their worst days.

“The gold stars are very small symbols and very subdued symbols in our society,” said Donna Engeman, a Gold Star Spouse and manager of the Army’s Installation Management Command (IMCOM) survivor outreach services program. “Outside the survivor community, there are not a whole lot of people who know what Gold Star means. But these symbols are so huge to the survivor community.”

The gold star symbolism goes back to World War I, when families with loved ones serving overseas displayed blue star banners in their windows. Families of the fallen then replaced the blue star banner with a gold star banner to bring awareness and honor to their lost loved one.

Gold Star Mothers Day, observed on the last Sunday in September, was established by joint congressional resolution on June 23, 1936, and has been observed each year since by presidential proclamation.

From the most junior enlisted to the most senior officer, it’s a day when all service members render a salute to the mothers who lost their children in service to America.

“We should be so proud of them and their sacrifice,” Gen. Ray Odierno told the Washington Post as he retired last month. “They love just staying connected to the Army, to the units that their children or sons or daughters or husbands were in, and for me [it’s] incredibly important that we do that.”


Meet Henry: The Man Who Volunteered at the USO Almost Every Day for 5 Years

If you’ve set foot in the USO on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, at some point in the last five years, chances are Henry Edmon greeted you at the door.

Edmon, originally from Sudbury, Ontario, volunteered at the USO every day the center has been open for the past five-plus years — minus the two days he took off to attend his daughter’s and the USO center director’s weddings. He recently retired from his volunteer duties after donating roughly 4,000 hours of his time to the organization.

Edmon, who served in the Canadian and American armies, enjoyed chatting with young service members about his military career as a means of encouragement.

“Most of the kids are so damn scared of [starting out in the military] that they’re not too sure of where they’re going to go or what they’re going to do,” Edmon said. “And I just say, ‘Look, it’s not that bad.’”


Theta Chi Fraternity Raises Thousands for USO at G.I. Theta Chi Events

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

For Theta Chi Fraternity, partnering with the USO was an easy decision.

The fraternity, which has military roots dating back to its founding, has a history of supporting military nonprofits. After years of backing organizations that primarily serve wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans, Theta Chi expanded its philanthropic efforts in 2013 to support the larger military community.

“By supporting the USO, Theta Chi not only honors its creed, but also its storied military roots,” Theta Chi Executive Director Mike Mayer said.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

Since the partnership began two years ago, Theta Chi has raised over $43,102 to benefit the USO.

“The members of Theta Chi have already made an impact to the USO by hosting events that both bring monetary benefit as well as raising awareness in the community,” USO Regional Development Manager Kyndele Cooke said at Theta Chi’s 2014 National Convention.

The USO also partners with the Greek organizations Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Gamma Delta.

Rooted in the Military Community

Theta Chi’s connection with the military dates back to its founding in at Norwich University in 1856. That year, two cadets attending Norwich — the oldest private military college in the country — created the Theta Chi Society, which eventually became Theta Chi fraternity.

Many of the organization’s first members, who were also military cadets at Norwich, had to leave their studies to fight in the Civil War. Several other Theta Chi brothers throughout history have served in the military, including a handful who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

“Being a military-based fraternity, we would sometimes recruit guys who are coming back from the service to go to college,” Heard said. “We had two Marines in our [Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida] in the past four years.”

Creating G.I. Theta Chi

Before the fraternity’s official partnership with the USO began, several Theta Chi chapters held “G.I. Theta Chi” philanthropy events to raise money for other military nonprofits. These “G.I. Theta Chi” events, which originated at the Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida, now benefit the USO.

“Just a couple years ago we decided to start something that would set us apart on campus and nationally as far as raising money for a good cause,”said Wylder Heard, the philanthropy chair at the University of Central Florida’s Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter. “What makes us come back to do it every single year is the fact that we’re raising money to help the troops.”

G.I. Theta Chi events vary from school to school. At the University of Central Florida, the fraternity holds a weeklong fundraising competition involving the entire campus. At the end of the week, Theta Chi leads a field day with military-themed activities. All students, regardless of Greek affiliation, are invited to participate in the week’s events.

“Everyone knows, ‘Oh, G.I. Theta Chi,'” Heard said. “‘I want to participate. I love the obstacle course. I love the cause. I love America.’

“I guess that’s one thing: Everyone can be a patriot [during G.I. Theta Chi].”


All Gave Some, Some Gave All. And Some Are Still Missing.


National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed on the third Friday in September. But while many instantly recognize the cause’s flag, they likely don’t know how to commemorate the occasion compared to the other military connected days.

Veterans Day is observed with the understanding that all gave some. All veterans, no matter what their role or rank, put their lives on the line when they volunteered to wear the uniform.

Memorial Day is observed with the understanding that some gave all. We use the day to remember the human cost of war.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day is a day to both honor the service and sacrifice of our missing and captive and also refocus America’s energy and attention to the promise it made to bring them home.

With that in mind, here are three reads about the day and issues surrounding it:

More than 80,000 Americans have yet to come home from past conflicts. Many of those families never received a folded flag. They never had a burial in the rain or launched a memorial in their loved one’s name. When someone goes missing in action, the families often sit and linger in limbo. That’s why today was created: to remember the promise of bringing their loved ones home.


Did You Know? 11 Facts for the Air Force’s 68th Birthday

Air Force photo

Air Force photo

As the Air Force celebrates its 68th birthday, here’s 11 things you may not know about the youngest branch of America’s military.

1. Technically, Air Force One isn’t just one plane. The term Air Force One refers to any plane the commander in chief is traveling aboard. The White House currently has two customized Boeing 747-200B aircraft available specifically to transport the president.

2. The Air Force shares its birthday with the CIA. Both were founded on September 18, 1947.

Air Force photo

Air Force photo

3. The Air Force Memorial is one of the sneakily great places to get a view of downtown Washington. It’s tucked between the Pentagon and a large shopping mall. Rarely crowded, visitors can stand below the three spires and get a panoramic view of our nation’s capital.

4. Battle-hardened weathermen? Check. A hat-tip to Mental Floss for this nugget in a June story about how the Air Force sends Special Operations Weather Teams into the unfriendly skies to check out conditions before sending larger groups of aircraft into a region.

5. Airmen … on the ground: The Air Force is in charge of cyber security, an ever-expanding field in the new world of defense. They’re currently recruiting 6,000 cybersecurity personnel by 2017.

6. A “roof stomp” is an Air Force tradition where airmen welcome new commander or celebrate a special occasion by climbing up on the commander’s roof to make noise while others are bang on the windows and doors. The commander then opens the door to welcome in the group for refreshments. (In recent years, some airmen have modified the tradition to a “porch stomp.”)


7. Each March, some airmen participate in a Mustache March, a tradition where airmen grow mustaches to honor Air Force legend and triple ace Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.

8. Johnny Cash, Morgan Freeman and James Stewert are just a handful of the celebrities who have served as airmen. Stewart – who won an Oscar for “Philadelphia Story” before flying missions in World War II and Vietnam – rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

9. Before the Air Force became its own branch of the military, it was a part of the Army. On Aug. 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Aeronautical Division, which later evolved into the Air Force.

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous 'stache. Photo via commons

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous ‘stache. Photo via commons

10. In 1947, then-Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, beginning a new era of aeronautics in America.

11. Two U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — served as airmen. Reagan’s service came when the branch was still the Army Air Forces. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard before transferring to the Air Force Reserve.


A USO Tour in Alaska: Sirius XM The Highway Host Storme Warren Brings Country Stars Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers to Troops

Sirius XM’s The Highway personality Storme Warren — along with country artists Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers — have taken to Alaska to bring troops in the far-flung region something they rarely get: a USO tour. Here are some highlights from the first stop on their weeklong trip.

The tour spans a week and will visit Eielson Air Force Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak among other locations.

You can follow the tour around the world, too, by tuning into SiriusXM’s The Highway (Channel 56).