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Kentucky Community Honors ‘Adopted’ Paratroopers

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2008 – More than 1,000 students, teachers and parents crowded into a Fort Mitchell, Ky., school auditorium Oct. 24 to thank Army paratroopers and their families from Fort Bragg, N.C., for their service.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Mike Gaither enjoys a handmade card from a Beechwood Elementary School student. Photo courtesy of Beechwood Support Our Troops
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Fort Mitchell community “adopted” the 82nd Airborne Division’s Company B, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, several years ago after learning about America Supporting Americans, a group that connects communities with military units.

In 2006, several Fort Mitchell residents and Beechwood School teachers formed “Beechwood Support Our Troops,” a local branch of the group, to hold events such as “Support our Troops Night.”

"Today is giving back to them, because they've given so much to us," said Nancy Taylor, founder of Beechwood Support Our Troops and former third-grade teacher, who helped to organize the Oct. 24 event. “You feel much closer to them. It’s just like adopting a child. They are yours, and you want to take care of them."

The event also recognized families of fallen Company B soldiers Staff Sgt. Travis Nixon and Sgt. Kyle Dayton. Nixon was killed in Afghanistan in 2005 and Dayton in Iraq in 2007.

“This visit was unique due to the number of troopers who visited -- 15, including troopers who have now moved on from our unit, but were formerly part of the ‘family,’ -- and the attendance of the families of the two fallen soldiers,” Taylor said. “A local jeweler made a beautiful, simple sterling necklace for each member of the Dayton and Nixon families.”

Unit soldiers thanked Fort Mitchell with a flag that flew over their battalion headquarters in Iraq.

“It’s exceptionally humbling,” said Army Capt. John Miller, company commander. “It makes you feel about two inches tall to know all these people are standing beside you and propping you up. It’s phenomenal. It really is.”

Taylor said members of the community have stayed in communication with the unit through e-mails, letters, cards, care packages and, most recently, on the Facebook social networking site. “When they have expressed needs, we start working on providing them,” she said. “Beechwood School is a great resource in gathering items that our unit needs, especially when deployed.”

Beechwood Support Our Troops has sent hand warmers, thermal underwear, socks, baby wipes, lip balm, candy, notebooks and pens to the deployed soldiers.

“One year, when our unit was home at Fort Bragg, we discovered that they could use a ‘take-down’ mat when learning new defensive maneuvers,” Taylor said. “I talked to [Fort Mitchell city officials], and after some searching, we found a mat. The city cut a check, and the mat was on its way to Fort Bragg.”

Normally, Beechwood Support Our Troops events include a parade with fire trucks and police cars, but weather forced the parade’s cancellation this time. But before a pep rally that was followed by a high school football game, a local family hosted the soldiers, along with U.S. Reps. Geoff Davis and Jack Westwood and Fort Mitchell Mayor Tom Hollacher. The football game was dedicated to the visiting troopers and the fallen soldiers.

On Oct. 25, Beechwood Support Our Troops took the soldiers and their families on a riverboat cruise on the Ohio River, where they were able to view the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati river fronts. The evening included a jaunt to the local German pub for dinner.

“Plans are in the works to hopefully get together at the state football championship in December, followed by a possible visit to Fort Bragg by us in April,” Taylor said. “We hope to host the unit back ‘home’ for 4th of July.”

The soldiers are scheduled to deploy again in August.

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