Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Little Things

Long-time readers of my blog know of my support for Soldier's Angels - Project VALOUR-IT. I've participated in the annual fund drives since they first began in 2005. Back in February, I received a packet from Project VALOUR-IT. I read through all the material and was happy about the new efforts being taken to generate more support. The happiness turned to perplexity.

One of the tie-ins was about those soldiers who were in Iraq or Afghanistan when Hurricane Katrina struck. The men and women in our Armed Services faithfully served our country while Hurricane Katrina was demolishing their hometowns. But there was something odd about this section. It only mentioned those from New Orleans.

I've come to expect from news media that Mississippi's Hurricane Katrina story is usually included as an after-thought and then given the euphemism of the 'Gulf Coast'. However, I would expect some acknowledgement from Soldier's Angels.

See, at the time Hurricane Katrina struck Mississippi, 3,200 of our National Guard were deployed in Iraq and 300 in Afghanistan. And these men and women continued their mission while having fears of what was happening to their families while Hurricane Katrina was on her rampage of destruction through Mississippi. And yet the Soldier's Angels packet only mentions those military men and women from New Orleans and Louisiana when referencing Hurricane Katrina.

I'm reasonably sure Soldier's Angels didn't mean to slight those men and women from Mississippi who steadfastly kept their posts while their families back in Mississippi were digging out of the rubble. Like many who write about Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi's story is just a sideshow. But to us in Mississippi, it is an over-riding concern. Especially to the families of soldiers like National Guard 1st Lt. Robert Oneto-Sikorski.

DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. –- Everybody has a Katrina story in the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland. Most people are homeless, or at least forced into trailers or relatives' homes. They are frustrated by the endless red tape and anguished about an uncertain future in a region where recovery is measured by tons of debris moved, number of houses demolished and businesses back in business.

They are tired of FEMA trailers, tired of the bureaucracy, tired of the devastation, tired from worrying about money, their jobs and their children.

Elaine Oneto, who also lost her house, has a different perspective, wrought from another tragedy, one that, in her mind, has obliterated all the impact of the hurricane.

Her youngest son, National Guard 1st Lt. Robert Oneto-Sikorski, was killed Monday while on foot patrol near Al Haswah, an area west of Baghdad.

He leaves behind three children, ages 6, 8 and 11. Before his deployment in Iraq, the Hancock High School and University of South Alabama graduate worked as a mechanical engineer at the Northrop Grumman shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.

To the person who wrote the Soldier's Angels packet, it may have seemed like a little thing not to acknowledge the Mississippi military men and women who continued to serve even as their families were struggling to put their lives back together after Hurricane Katrina. It may have seemed like a little thing to send those packets to those in Mississippi without acknowledging the impact of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi. But those little things matter to me.

PS: I should add that I'm committed to Soldier's Angels Project VALOUR-IT. In the past two months, I've made inroads with a major defense contractor located along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was informed a donation has been budgeted for Project VALOUR-IT and that they were going to send it in for the Navy-Coast Guard team! Also, some employees of other defense contractors are interested in participating in the next fund drive. I just have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to Mississippi's Hurricane Katrina story. Here's another Mississippi Soldier's Angel: 'Hop on my wings for a while, bud. We'll carry you for a little while til you're ready to go back.'

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