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Never Forget – Thoughts on the 12th anniversary of 9-11 and Homefront Hugs

Never Forget – Thoughts on the 12th anniversary of 9-11 and Homefront Hugs

Never Forget – Thoughts from Homefront Hugs founder on 12th anniversary

– by Alessandra Kellermann, Founder of Homefront Hugs USA

 

It was a sunny fall day in Pittsburgh, somewhat like today, blue skies, fresh clear air, autumn leaves starting to show their bright colors, and I had my usual 45 minute commute to the hospital for my job. I turned on the radio as I always did for some news and music to start the day as I reviewed patient files.

My little munchkin Ed was smiling back at me from his photo, and I could feel myself already missing him having dropped him off at daycare 30 minutes ago.

It was 9:01 am, 09-11-2001,  as I listened to the news at my desk at the hospital and began to feel shivers run down my back.

I could feel the confusion and tension in the room. My boss was praying and calling loved ones to meet at their Catholic church.The first plane hit the first tower, then the second and I knew from my aviation knowledge two planes crashing of any size was no accident. My Jewish grandfather had taught me about the first and only time we were attacked during Pearl Harbor,and how incredible our WWII veterans were helping some of our family escape the camps and Hitler, to never forget. Being the daughter of a State Department official, we had been through coup d’etats overseas and it felt eerily the same…yet much more sinister.

As a former USAF pilot’s wife or “dependent” as they like to call us, I knew about war.  Our own marriage had failed due to lack of support during the 1st Gulf War when we had a tragedy occur and I lost our precious twins. This morning, I could feel it in my bones that something was very wrong and I went into crisis mode.

A friend of mine at the airlines called to tell me that another plane was flying hijacked over Pittsburgh and to get my son Ed out of daycare and outside of the city, on the other side of the tunnels.

“I’m not supposed to be relaying this but we have a hijacked plane and they are about to close the tunnels. You need to get out of there, get Ed and go home to Elizabeth, away from the city. Now, Sandy.”

Within 5 minutes, I was in my car leaving work realizing our country was being attacked. All I wanted was to hold my little boy in my arms and go…just go as far away from the city as possible. I knew until I felt his chubby little hands around my neck and hugged him, the quiet panic in my stomach would not subside. Cell phone lines were jammed and traffic was bumper to bumper which did not help ease my concern.

That plane my friend was talking about was the “Let’s Roll” plane and crashed 15 minutes after I got home with my Ed ,about 25 min from where we lived.  I felt sick knowing our troops would be deployed and knowing what this meant. I was a diplomat’s and Army officer’s daughter. Having been a USAF pilot’s wife, I knew what an attack on our soil meant.  I had been married to  Air Force pilot Steve Schmidt, a bright and loving University of Michigan grad from Charlevoix who joined the US Air Force straight out of college with highest honors.

We had been through a lot including an overseas deployment, and the 1st Gulf War when there was almost zero support for families as we went through our own personal tragedy losing our twins during a tough pregnancy. We were no longer together but there was not a day that went by that I did not miss my 1st and only love, and wish we had made it somehow. He had been my best friend and hero…met in college working with disabled kids at University of Michigan. He saw me flying a kite with my special needs kiddo and his assigned little boy wanted to play too. We fell right away for each other and it was some of the happiest times of my life.

On this 9-11-01, I looked at my little boy as we were finally safely home,  and hugged him probably a bit too tight, with CNN on in the background, showing the shock and turbulence all over the country,New York and Pentagon, and realized that this time around, we were going to do something to be there for the troops and families, something positive.  This time I was going to do something for kids so they would not hear about this in fear one day, but have positive ways to help and understand what had happened this day. I had to do something especially so the feeling of helplessness would subside that so many of us had that day.

I sat there in shock, listening to news, and trying to smile and steal another hug from my son as he played happily in his pop up tent with his stuffed animals and Hot Wheels in my bedroom, where we were barricaded, (yes and I was one of those nutty Americans sitting there with duct tape for the windows). This was when the concept of  Homefront Hugs USA was born eleven years ago on 9-11-01.

On 10/11/01, in honor of Steve’s birthday and his service, Homefront Hugs actually began.

On 9-11-11, on the 10th anniversary, we joined the University of Michigan Mens’ Soccer Team and our military to commemorate both Homefront Hugs and 9-11.  Lord knows, I never wanted to have a 10th anniversary for Homefront Hugs and now even an eleventh and now we are at the 12th  September 11, 2013.  I wish this war was over and our heroes were all home unscathed and fine with their loved ones. Instead Homefront Hugs has grown exponentially as our wounded come home, families are isolated and stressed with the incessant number of deployments, and we have lost so many with promise and hope, so young and causing so much grief for so many families not just to the war but to suicides as well.

The grandmother of SSG Daniel Rodriguez’s 3 children sent me some poignant and gut wrenching photos of his sacrifice, reminding us all we may not forget. These photos may tear at your heartstrings but we have to remember.  The way we honor these sacrifices reflects on the soul of our country.

  

Our Homefront Hero Hugs program allows you to receive your very own soldier to adopt during a hospital stay,wounded at home, or during a deployment,. We adopt their families as well sometimes even after a death, like with the Rodriguez family as they need us and need to know they are not just a number. We were the first and are the last to do this understanding families are heroes too.

Our wounded troops always need support so our Operation Healing Angel program is a great way for kids and teens to get started at home by writing cheerful uplifting notes or making drawings. Anyone can help from home and make a difference and so can your children and teens.  For kids and teens, go to our Kids Page.  There are so many ways to help  that there just are no more excuses. We have disABLED, our seniors, short, tall, young, old, artists, teachers, parents, couples, businesses, doctors, nurses, plumbers, pilots, writers, Hollywood stars, churches, synagogues, singers, grandparents, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus,Mormons, Catholics, Michigan and yes even Michigan State fans, citizens from all political venues.

I think you get the picture….We welcome everyone here. We keep it nonpartisan. Our oldest volunteer is 86 and youngest is two.  Just ask and we can find a way for you to help from home too anytime of year!

Sparkling and fun Ann Arbor,Michigan is our headquarters now permanently as we love our state of Michigan and this bustliong and family friendly university town. We are all volunteers united across politics, races,and religions to make a difference. Anyone can find out more at http://www.HomefrontHugs.org and email HomefrontHugsUSA@aol.com. United we stand. Freedom Endures(TM).  And yes, always GO BLUE !

When we adopt our troops, they come to us lonely or stressed, weary from so many deployments and just needing a Homefront Hug.

What keeps me inspired is that I always picture that this could have been Steve and there is no reason there should be any lonely or depressed troops without support in this day and age. He was my hero and I will always miss him, my best friend from Charlevoix, college romance, my soulmate. I never remarried though life goes on for both of us.   Homefront Hugs is personal .

What also keeps me inspired, are our amazing volunteers and the troops who manage to ask for a hug or some stress relief even when they have almost lost faith that we truly remember or care.  At least today, I can make certain our heroes and families have the support they need whenever possible. We have the best volunteers nationwide.

This 9-11 do something to remember in a positive way, give back whether with us or others…as that is the best way to honor the lives sacrificed and those willing to still serve our country and keep us free and safe.  Never forget the 1st responders many of them previous military themselves, and reach out your hand in thanks. Cover their meal in a restaurant.  Shake their hands and teach your children to do the same.  Invite them over for a BBQ or bring over breakfast one weekend.   Adopt a hero or help a mission for our wounded warriors.  We need them all so much but we forget until one day, God forbid, we really need them.

Cherish those moments with your loved ones, that so many who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on or because of 9-11 cannot do anymore. Make it a yearlong project of giving back and choose to help in your own way.  Just do something .

This 9-11 do anything to honor our 12th anniversary and remember those sacrifices of our veterans and 1st responders, without conditions or politics.  Make sure “no hero is forgotten”.

Something my hamdsome and funny husband Steve used to tell me when we were together in love, thinking about the future, how fast time was flying, “Savor…Savor this moment so that years from now we can  remember this as if it just happened” .

 

I came away from the marriage having learned so much about myself and relationships but all in good time. It took a while and yet I know everything happens for a reason as my best friend Claire and late mother-in-law would tell me way into my thirties. Steve always helped me not sweat the small stuff and make the best of simple things in life which came from his wonderful American Indian mother Claire, whom I miss every day, but always by our hearts. You never know when those memories are all you have left as so many victims of  9-11  know now too and military families who have lost.

It’s not whether we are for or against the war, we unite to support those who are too often forgotten as this country grows weary of the news and war, and yes, even anniversaries.

There is a place for everyone here at Homefront Hugs from every religion and way of life.

We will be here. And if you need support, we are here to support you and honored to do so. Please click on our “Be Adopted” or “Resources” page to start and then know your situation is confidential and we follow OPSEC (operational security). We are just a volunteer organization with the most amazing volunteers, all screened and registered, who care and want to say thanks in some small way.

I thank God every day that Steve did not come home wounded physically or emotionally with the latest tragedy, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD is the second war now here on our soil as tens of thousands come home now.  PTSD  needs to become a household word.  On every page of our website, the resource numbers are there to call 24-7 if you or someone you love is in trouble emotionally now that they are home :  1-800-273-8255 and press 1.  The suicide rate of our active duty troops and our veterans is alarming and we have to all do our part to reach out, and stop this epidemic. Our troops who come home are often in pain , and unwilling or worried about the stigma of an emotional wound.  These wounds are real and there is help.  The symptoms of PTSD  can surface even months later .

If you are not sure, call.

If you know someone who is not themselves since the war, call. 

If you are the hero, call.

It takes even more courage to get help for this invisible wound. We need  and want you here. President Obama just signed an executive order to double mental health resources including staff so you will have trained counselors, many vets themselves, listening in confidence and there to help.

This 9-11, choose how you wish to remember, savor those moments and hug your loved ones.  These are gifts from so many heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice on 9-11 and the war.  Your ability to vote and live in freedom is a gift too.

Make each day count quietly but make it count. Life is a gift and when I hug my son and tell him how much I love him, I know he can never hear it enough.  To all our 1st responders, and military heroes and families, thank you.  Freedom Endures. We will be here and we will never forget.

If you would like to help our missions continue, please  know your support is appreciated so that no hero is forgotten. You will be able to leave a note afterwards which we will include in our care packages shipped out every month to our wounded warriors and deployed troops. Thank you for your help especially because no one earns a penny here . Our heroes need us now – and you have not forgotten.

 





 

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