The last month has been an especially good one for the organization. During this time we were able to successfully orchestrate reunions for the veterans of Kilo and Weapons Companies who served in the 2005 and 2006 Iraq deployments. In early August veterans of Kilo Company descended upon the quiet shores of Lake Anna, Virginia for the second annual company reunion. Last year’s reunion in Myrtle Beach was the first time in almost a decade many of these Marines had seen each other. This reunion was no different with many new faces in attendance as well as many returnees. The first night we counted 25 Marines in attendance as well as spouses and girlfriends, a higher number than last year and one that will hopefully continue to rise as the years go by.
The location in central Virginia allowed for the attending Marines to pay their respects to Corporal Blake Thomas who passed in early August. Corporal Thomas was not only a Kilo 3/8 veteran from Afghanistan, but also related by marriage to a Kilo 3/8 Fallujah and Ramadi veteran who is a regular at the reunions. His loss was felt by the greater 3/8 family, and we were humbled to be allowed to attend and pay our respects to a fellow warrior. Fair Winds and Following Seas Corporal Thomas, you will always be in the hearts of your brothers.
With day trips to the Marine Corps Museum and several northern Virginia Civil War battlefields, the 2017 Kilo reunion was an excellent opportunity for warriors to strengthen the bonds forged in combat. The evenings were raucous affairs with all the necessary storytelling and debating that comes with combat Marines reuniting over a “few” drinks.
This ability to let loose and comfortably discuss topics that are usually kept inside is a cornerstone to these reunions, and it also expands the support network as men realize they are not alone in many of their struggles. It also allows for guys and their significant others to learn more about programs that can be of help. This year the topic of VA benefits was discussed at length, with lots of advice and knowledge passed along. This ability to expand the support network is a benefit of the reunion that almost cannot be quantified in its positive effects, and it alone makes all the planning and preparation worth it.
For Weapons Company’s veterans, this year saw the largest reunion turnout ever. These Marines and Corpsmen have had a reunion in one form or another since roughly 2009. In the past, it was more of an ad-hoc event put on by a group of volunteers. The first couple gatherings took place in the Philadelphia metropolitan area thanks to the generosity of Joe and Penny Santoro, parents of a 3/8 veteran of the Iraq deployments and current advisory board member Nick Santoro, who opened their home to us. In time, however, the gathering would expand to take place at various locations up and down the eastern seaboard. With the advent of our nonprofit in the last couple years, we added a level of organization not seen before. This year, for example, preparations for the event begin in the 1st quarter of the year. A reunion committee of 4 veterans of the unit led by Advisory Board member Nick West spent roughly 5 months working on the minutiae involved with pulling off such a large gathering. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee was chosen as the venue due to its central location and ample lodging options. The committee used social media and other channels to spread the word and coordinate dates, travel, etc. While a large turnout was expected, the actual number exceeded our wildest expectations. Thirty-three people attended the event. This included veterans of the unit, their spouses and significant others, and a gold star family of one of our fallen comrades. There were also a number of first-time attendees, which will hopefully be a trend that will continue.
For both reunions the settings were idyllic, the company was of the highest caliber, and the weather couldn’t be better. With this backdrop, these veterans did what warriors undoubtedly have always done when they meet with comrades after a prolonged absence – they caught up on each other’s lives, introduced spouses, recollected war stories, revitalized the most important connection many of us have, and most importantly honor our fallen brothers. For it is because of their sacrifice that any of us exist, there presence is always felt.
Reunions are an integral part of this organization’s mission. We believe that such gatherings have a therapeutic impact on our community. Many of our number consider the event as the pinnacle of their social calendar. We will continue to strive to enlarge the attendee list and continuously improve the event.
We want to send a special thank you to the volunteers of this year’s events. From those that planned, cooked, ran errands, etc. Without your assistance this event would not have happened.
Director of Fundraising and Hardship