A Mission Unlike Any Other – Tennessee Army National Guard
“Not all missions require boots or body armor”
On a rainy Thursday afternoon, thirty-five Tennessee National Guard Soldiers showed up in a Wal-Mart parking lot to complete a mission unlike any other. They didn’t buy groceries for the week or get an early start on holiday shopping. They purchased birthday gifts for children- Soldiers’ children. These gifts were sent to the children of fallen Active Duty military men and women, children whose parents died defending the United States of America.
This initiative was organized by A Soldier’s Child Foundation (ASC), an organization founded by Daryl J.W. Mackin. After witnessing his neighbors lose a son in combat in 2009, Mackin was moved to act and established ASC. With the mission ‘to serve the Gold Star Children of military personnel who have lost their lives on Active Duty while defending the United States of America,’ ASC has enrolled more than 3300 children throughout each of the 50 states.
“We send each kid a personalized birthday package based upon their wish list,” Mackin shared. “Through donations, contributions and volunteer sponsorships, we’ve been able to really make a difference in these kids’ lives. We send kids to adventure camps, we offer leadership programs and we provide kids with college scholarships. Most importantly, we impart on these kids the knowledge that they are never forgotten. This nation truly honors and will remember their family’s sacrifice.”
To kick off the shopping event, Gov. Bill Lee greeted the Soldiers and volunteers. “This is a cause that is near and dear to my heart,” Lee stated. “On behalf of 6.7 million Tennesseans and a grateful nation, we are honored to partner with ASC for such a worthy and noble cause– our Gold Star children.”
During the shopping event, the Soldiers and volunteers bought birthday presents for 102 children in the ASC program.
“Shopping for Gold Star Children is a humbling experience,” Staff Sgt. Sutay shared. “I am so honored to be able to help with this most worthy cause. These kids and their families are our family. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and we don’t take that for granted.”
Not only did they purchase the gifts, the Soldiers personally wrapped, packaged, and loaded the birthday boxes for delivery.
“What higher calling is there for us than to give back to Gold Star Families who have given everything for our country?” Ltc. John C. Rigdon, the Tennessee National Guard Recruiting and Retention Commander, stated. “We are one big military family, and it is such an honor and privilege to give back to families who have sacrificed everything.”
After the wrapping and the packaging, the Soldiers threw a surprise birthday party for a very special Soldiers’ child. Evelyn, who lost her dad James in 2012 a few months before she was born, turned seven years old. Her mother led the unsuspecting birthday girl into the Murfreesboro National Guard Armory, and the surprise on her face was easy to see. Grinning from ear to ear, Evelyn celebrated with her siblings, cake, presents, balloons and 100 Tennessee National Guard Soldiers who showed up to celebrate her birthday and honor her family.
“The kids haven’t been in a room full of Soldiers since their dad’s funeral,” Evelyn’s mom told Mackin, “and as they were eating cake, they were saying that this really felt like family.”
Not all missions require boots or body armor, but that does not diminish their importance. For the Tennessee Army National Guard, the mission of taking care of America’s Gold Star Children is not taken lightly. That noble and hallowed mission, along with the memories of the fallen and their families, will always be held in the place of highest honor — and never be forgotten.
Story by Staff Writer Sgt. Leann Roggensack