Voices for Veterans

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Memorial Day is swiftly approaching and with it comes our annual St. Simons Island tradition of Taps at Twilight. While the national holiday honors those men and women who have fallen in service of our country, our ceremony honors not only the fallen, but those who have valiantly served and returned, and those who serve today. In keeping with this more expansive embrace, we turn our attention here to ways we can honor our Veterans locally and raise our voices for their cause and in their memory.

Taps at Twilight – Remember Their Names and Their Sacrifice

Here on St. Simons Island, we honor the men and women who have fallen in service of our country, those who valiantly served and returned, and those who serve today at the annual St. Simons Rotary TAPS at Twilight program on Memorial Day. This tradition, begun in 1991 and presented by the St. Simons Rotary will continue Monday, May 27, at Neptune Park. Patriotic music will be performed by The Golden Isles Community Band from the St. Simons Casino bandstand beginning at 6:00 p.m. The program will commence promptly at 6:45 p.m. The event is free and open to the public; guests are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets as seating is not provided.

The invocation will be conducted by U.S. Air Force Major General (Ret.) William B. “Burt” Davitte. The program will also include an honor guard presentation, presentation of the floral wreath provided by Anabela Tortorell accompanied by a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace,” patriotic music including the National Anthem, anthems for each branch of service and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” sung by Jim Broussard, Music Director Christ Church Frederica. The ceremony will conclude with the playing of “Taps.” The Memorial Day Address will be provided by guest speaker U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Kevin “Red Eagle” Brown.

To say that Brown lives a life of public service is an understatement. He served his country for 25 years as an Infantry leader in the U.S. Army and was recognized in 2018 as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment (DMOR) for the 22nd Infantry Regiment, whose troops have fought valiantly for our nation in conflicts that date back to the War of 1812. Brown served his tribe as the elected Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, for six years before retiring that position. He has also actively served and promoted Veterans and other charitable causes tirelessly for more than a decade, earning an induction into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame in 2018 for his efforts. Even his current position as President of the Norwich Community Development Corporation, focused on Economic and Community Development for the City of Norwich, is one that serves his community. As he says, “I was preordained to serve. It’s in my DNA.”

Kevin was generous enough to take some time before he headed out to Boston to participate in the annual Tough Ruck run to talk to Elegant Island Living about his life, family, past service, and the importance of raising awareness about Veterans’ causes. When Kevin talks about his DNA, it’s important to establish some context. His father Michael was a U.S. Army paratrooper and veteran of WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. His brother Mike was career Army and his brother Mark was a Norwich Police Officer for over a decade before becoming Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe. Kevin is a direct 13th generation descendant of Sachem Uncas, the first sachem of the Mohegan tribe and influential statesman in the early 1600, and his mother, Pauline “Red Feather” Brown, was a Tribal Nonner, or wise woman. Ties run deep for him, in both his local and military communities.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1987, Kevin led men and women in deployed environments at all levels. He was a Platoon Leader with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and a Company Commander in the 1st Cavalry Division along the Iraqi border during Operation Southern Watch & Intrinsic Action. He served as a Battalion Executive Officer in the northern jungles of Thailand during Operation Cobra Gold, [including deployments during the Global War on Terror in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008] first as a Battalion Commander in the 10th Mountain Division in Baghdad, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and again as a Deputy Brigade Commander in the 10th Mountain Division in Kirkuk Iraq. 

Kevin culminated his career as a Colonel commanding the Garrison at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he led holistic health efforts to sustain the resilience of highly-deployed soldiers and their family members before retiring in 2011. Brown is Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger, and Senior Parachutist qualified and he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star (with 3 oak leaf clusters), the Combat Infantryman’s Badge (with Star for second Award), as well as multiple other commendations. He also earned his Master of Science in Operations Research from the Naval Postgraduate School, a Master of Arts in Public Diplomacy from Norwich University and completed his PhD pre-dissertation work in Security Studies at Kansas State University.

In Boston at this year’s Tough Ruck, Kevin will be carrying the names of nearly 50 soldiers and fallen comrades. He understands the life and sacrifices of deployed soldiers and their families in a way that many people never will. The message he hopes to send at Taps at Twilight and through the work that he does with organizations like the Warrior Bonfire Program is that “peace doesn’t come without sacrifice.” He says it’s essential to keep remembering, so we don’t become complacent. “If we’re not careful, we’ll forget.” While Kevin enjoys the present by spending time with his family as a “sports dad,” enjoying traveling and vacations with them, and riding his Harley, he still serves as a director for the National Archives Foundation and the Advisory Committee for the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington DC to help ensure that the past is not forgotten.”

Come hear Kevin share his stories and impart the wisdom and life perspective from his unique experience at Taps at Twilight on Memorial Day. Join this heartwarming and soul stirring community gathering that allows us to pay our respects to those courageous souls who have served our country. For more information about St. Simons Rotary, visit ssirotary.org.

Coastal Georgia Honor Flight – Welcome Our Heroes Home

On Saturday, May 4, you can head over to the Brunswick-Golden Isles Airport on to give a true heroes’ welcome to area Veterans returning home from their visit to national war memorials in Washington D.C. courtesy of the 2024 Coastal Georgia Honor Flight. Community members are invited to wear patriotic attire and bring signs of support to remind our heroes that we remain grateful for their past service.

Coastal Georgia Honor Flight is one of several hubs in the U.S. that honor Veterans with visits to D.C. stops that include, as time permits, the World War II, Korean and Vietnam Memorials, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery for the famous Changing of the Guard Ceremony, the Marine Corps (Iwo Jima), Air Force and Navy Memorials. Financial donations from businesses and individuals help cover the cost for each veteran so there is no charge to them. The guardians that accompany each veteran for the day pay a fee to help cover the cost of his or her trip. The flight typically returns to Brunswick from Washington D.C. around 9:00 p.m., but the time can vary based on weather and other conditions. Occasionally the flight even comes in ahead of schedule, so it’s not a bad idea to get to the airport early.

Community support of this program makes this experience possible for our heroes and your participation and donations are vital, especially as fuel and other costs are increasing and budgets are dwindling. Please consider donating to the program to ensure that these flights can continue. You’re also welcome to sign up as a guardian or volunteer for next year’s flight. For more information and updated flight arrival times, follow Coastal Georgia Honor Flight, Inc. on Facebook and visit coastalgeorgiahonorflight.org.

Golden Isles Veterans Village – Be Their Foundation

Another community project with Veterans at the forefront is Golden Isles Veterans Village, Inc. (GIVV). The mission of GIVV is to provide transitional housing in a safe and supportive community to Veterans who are experiencing homelessness and have been honorably discharged from the military. Each Veteran housed will receive services to provide medical, physical and emotional support needed to heal and education and job training opportunities to move forward to permanent housing, employment, if appropriate, and sustainability.

The construction phase of the village is progressing with the building exteriors finished and painted, electrical and plumbing installed, and the interior build stage currently underway. Flooring, insulation, and drywall has been installed in each tiny home. The bed/couch with storage underneath for each home is being constructed by GICCA. The kitchenette will be. installed next, then each bathroom will be completed. Work is also in progress on the community center interior. After the development of the drainage plan is finalized, grading and drainage will be done, followed by installation of permanent fencing and sidewalks, and finally, landscaping.

Progress has been tremendous, but even more rewarding to see is the teamwork and incredible support received from our entire community to get GIVV this far. Executive Director Lorene Reid says, “We are so grateful and can’t thank everyone enough for helping us get to where we are today!” This past year GIVV enjoyed working with many volunteer teams (i.e. VFW Post 4092, American Legion Post 137, Boy Scout Troop 214, St. Simons Presbyterian Church, Baptist Churches of South Georgia, Glynn Academy Honor Society and Ethnology Clubs, etc.). Monetary donations have come from individuals, businesses large and small, civic clubs such as Rotary and Elks, foundations, and grants. Primary partner Nine Line Foundation shares their expertise and is extremely generous with monetary and in-kind donations. A huge thank you to U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter for his assistance. Other key partners are St. Marys Methodist Church Foundation and Southeastern Bank in securing grants with the Federal Home Loan Bank- Atlanta.

The community has also stepped up to help GIVV by donating items, such as refrigerators from Elks Lodge 691, dinnerware from Golden Isles Republican Women, HVAC units from St. Simons Presbyterian Church, just to name a few. Fundraisers benefiting GIVV have been held by Nine Line Foundation, Golden Isles Association of Realtors, Elks Lodge 691 and others. The support has been tremendous! The next steps is to hire staff while the final stages of construction are completed on the village. This will allow staff members to participate in interviews with Veterans and set up individualized case plans in advance of their arrival. Reid explains, “The real work begins once the Veterans are in the homes. We are excited to get to the next phase where we’re providing services to those who have given so much for us and our freedom.”

If you’d like to see the progress at GIVV, they’ll be happy to set up a time for a tour if you email your request to info@goldenislesveteransvillage.org. A tangible way of showing your support and helping the GIVV build up from its foundation is to purchase a brick or paver in honor of someone you want to memorialize. This is an especially fitting way to preserve the memory of a fallen hero or dedicated service member for posterity while paving the way for others’ success. The GIVV walkways will be installed with sections of the bricks and pavers soon, so place orders today at goldenislesveteransvillage.org.

Voices for Veterans originally posted on by Elegant Island Living magazine.

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