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VFW, American Legion Volunteers Do Good Deed for Air Guardsman's Family

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2003 – Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion volunteers stepped up recently to help out the family of an Illinois Air National Guardsman deployed overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The pilot, who doesn't want his family's name used, said the spirit of working together as these volunteers did is an essential part of America.

The Guardsman is a pilot now flying missions over Iraq. The volunteer veterans constructed -- for free -- a deck around his home's aboveground swimming pool so that his 7-year-old daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, could get regular exercise this summer.

"We had put up an aboveground pool to help our daughter with physical therapy last year," the Guardsman explained through e-mail.

He later received orders and deployed overseas. During his absence, his wife spoke with a friend about the upcoming summer vacation season. "My wife informed her that she would probably not be able to use the pool this summer," the Guardsman said, "because I am deployed and it takes two people to get our daughter into the pool," one on the inside and one on the outside.

The friend went home that evening and told her husband about the situation, the Guardsman wrote. The husband told the local VFW about the situation.

The local VFW post, its Women's Auxiliary, and the American Legion "decided to take on" a project to construct a deck around the pool, connecting it to an existing deck off the house "so that my wife can take (the daughter's) wheel chair directly to the pool," the Guardsman said.

The volunteers "would not accept a donation from my wife," he said, emphasizing that their help represents "something that cannot be bought at any price."

The deck project "illustrates taking care of your own," he noted, adding that the deck project "was one that I planned on completing this spring, but was unable to."

He said that he and his wife could have paid someone to construct the deck, "but my wife said it was something that the folks at home wanted to do ... and they would not accept a donation for it."

He saluted the VFW and American Legion members' willingness to give up their personal time to help others in need. "But volunteering is what these people do. I grew up around veterans in a small town," the Guardsman wrote.

"I can remember these guys being on the volunteer fire department and running out of their auto parts store or restaurant when the (fire) siren went off. I (also) remember them at church and as our Boy Scout leaders."

The Guardsman's wife, awaiting the return of her husband, is also taking care of the couple's two other children. The volunteers who built the pool deck "are a wonderful group of caring men," she said.

"We are enjoying our pool thanks to them," she acknowledged.

Continuing to fly missions in the Middle East, the Guardsman emphasized that Operation Iraqi Freedom "is a good thing" to be involved in.

"After flying into airfields all over Iraq, I have seen the situation that most of the Iraqi people are in," he explained. "You fly by a presidential palace that is probably 10 acres in size, and a couple of miles away there are women getting water out of an irrigation ditch."

He said that a former squadron mate "paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan this year," noting, "this mission is very personal for me."

The VFW "realizes the hardships faced by these (military) families due to the long periods of separation," said Bud Haney, a spokesman at the organization's Kansas City, Mo., headquarters.

The VFW and American Legion volunteers who built the deck for the family "are doing what Americans have been doing for years - being a good neighbor," Haney concluded.

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