Live Blog: Cal U Veterans Club plans fundraising mission to benefit veterans in Joplin, Mo.
All Updates will be posted below as the caravan moves towards Joplin.
First, the background:
The Veterans Club at California University of Pennsylvania is on a mission to aid fellow military veterans in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.
Club members will drive from Cal U to Joplin, stopping along the way to solicit funds for the Missouri veterans at American Legion posts. Operation CALJOP (California/Joplin) will take the Veterans Club members to Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.
The group will depart from Cal U on Aug. 24. Club members will arrive in Joplin on Aug. 26 to meet with veterans and deliver the donations.
On a similar mission last year, the Cal U Veterans Club traveled to Michigan for the University’s first varsity football game of the season. Along the way, the veterans raised more than $1,750 for Jackie Syverson, a Cal U graduate student whose husband was killed while on active duty.
“This year we are changing gears just a little bit,” says Capt. Robert Prah, director of California University’s Office of Veterans Affairs. “We decided to focus our mission on veterans in need. Our goal this year is to raise $2,500 for Joplin’s veterans and their families.”
Howard Spiva, commander of the Robert S. Thurman Post 13 in Joplin, has told Prah that dozens of veterans lost everything when devastating storms swept through his community on May 22. More than 150 people were killed.
In addition to collecting donations, the Cal U veterans hope their journey will raise awareness of the American Legion’s national mission to support and serve veterans of all wars. On the road they will wear T-shirts highlighting the Legion’s “4 Pillars of Service.”
24 AUG 2011:
1523 hours - First Stop: California American Legion Post 377 (R Prah)
- We have arrived at Post 377, our home-town Legion. We were generously greeted at the Post by several members including a member of the Sons of the American Legion. Our State Representative, Rep. Peter Daley, 49th District, was also seeing us off as we begin our 800+ mile journey to Joplin, MO. - The donations continue to come in and the support has been great leading up to our departure from Cal U. - Our next stop, Roscoe American Legion Post 801 is about 10 minutes away. Thanks for the Support, Cal U & California Post 377
1716 hours - Second / Third Stop: Roscoe American Legion Post 801 & Charleroi American Legion Post 22 (R Prah)
- Just as it was last year, we were welcomed with open arms at Roscoe Post 801. Mr. Biles, the Veterans and everyone treated us great. The donations are starting to add up. - We arrived at Charleroi in the heart of the "Mon Valley" at 1715. There was a little confusion at first, but it all worked out. A reporter met us in Charleroi to help our cause as we leave the Valley. More updates later..
1830 hours - Fourth Stop: Wheeling WV American Legion Post 1 (R Prah)- Just finished our stop with John Pasquale and Joe Fatigati from American Legion Post 1 of Wheeling WV. Both gentlemen were extremely generous and it reflects great credit upon them and Post 1. We are back on the road en route to American Legion 283 out of Pickerington Ohio. ETA: 2230 hrs 2130 hours - Fifth Stop: Gas station (R Prah) - Not for gas. We had to refuel our brains with some coffee to save ourselves from inner van WW3. Some of us in this van may have less teeth than the fine people of Joplin are expecting us to have. Either way, we are back on the road again, teeth or no teeth 2230 hours - Sixth Stop: Pickerington, OH American Legion Post 283 (R Prah) - Although we were about 30 minutes late due to some rush hour traffic in and around Wheeling, the Commander of Post 283 patiently waited for us. They were expecting us..which was pretty nice. The American Legion provided us with a VERY generous donation for the Joplin, MO post. - I think the general consensus is that this may be one of the best Posts / Club that we have ever been to. Absolutely amazing, friendly and "Vet-Friendly." Big screen TVs, outdoor patio, waxed floor in the hall..just a very clean and amazing facility. There is a possibility we will return on Saturday in support of their Fallen Police Officer Poker Run..more to follow.. 0900 hours - Reville (R Prah) - Thanks to the Best Western crew we had a roof over our heads for the night (a nice roof at that). Very comfortable stay; now back to business. We are back on the road en route to American Legion HQ in Indianapolis Indiana! Should be there around 1230 hours. 1107 hours - extraterestrial encounter (M Virgin) - We just had our first alien encounter at a gas station about 100 miles out of Indianapolis. We almost lost our fearless leader Captain Prah to alien exhibition. Good thing our "Ranger" brought his disintegrating ray gun to defend the CalU caravan.... Live long and prosper. 1419 hours - Seventh Stop: American Legion Headquarters, Indianapolis Indiana ( R Prah) - We just finished up our stop at the American Legion HQ. We didn't go there expecting donations, but more of as a stop to appreciate the roots of our trip. We were welcomed by the assistant director of internal affairs, David Elmore. He gave us a tour of the building, many parts of which, were truly amazing. The National Executive Committee Room safeguarded an unexplainable feeling of loyalty, dedication to duty and valor. It's times like these that continue to add value to our trip and it gave us a greater sense of purpose than we already had. 1717 hours - QUICK STOP: Gateway to the West - We made a quick stop on our way to some of the other legions down in St. Louis. We stopped at the St. Louis Arch right in the heart of the city. It's always good to catch up on some good 'ole American history on ANY road trip. Took some pictures and now we are on our way back out. 2130 hours - An Unexpected Welcoming (R Prah) - Sometimes it can be funny how things work out. Originally we were supposed to stop at several American Legions in St. Louis. However, unfortunately, we were unable to link up with the posts; this left us fairly upset, yet, still motivated!a We made quite a few phone calls and after roughly 45 minutes got in touch with a gentleman named Troy from American Legion Post 347 of St. Clair Missouri. With only two gentlemen in the post (Commander Glenn Gildehaus and Mananger David Clement ), they openly welcomed us into their post. It should be noted that this is without a doubt one of the better American Legions we have visitied. This is indicitive to the moral of our story: VET'S HELPING VET'S. 1121 hours - Inbound ( R Prah) - we just got done with morning chow. Now we are on the road straight to Joplin! Expect boots on the ground between 1300-1330 hours. 1145 hours - Thoughts about our mission: Operation CALJOP (R Prah) - We are closing in on Joplin, MO as we travel along the last leg of our trip westbound on I-44. I'm sure that this feeling I'm about to express is felt by the other Student Veterans here in the van. - Here is a brief recap of our mission and final thoughts as we make our way southwest toward the tornadoe ravaged city of Joplin - For me, this trip to help the Veterans and their families in Joplin isn't about traveling out west and stopping at the Arch in St. Louis or trying to bring thousands of dollars to Joplin. It is about us, Veterans, helping our brothers and sisters in need. - It was 10-years ago, almost to the date, when I arrived at Ft. Benning to begin my in processing for Basic Training at the U.S. Army Infantry School. 10 years ago, I left my family and friends and embarked on a journey that was full of uncertainty, and yes, a little bit of fear. Although it's hard to believe it has been over 10 years since I joined the military, 11 Sep 2001 was a day that also changed my life forever. Having went "down-range" to basic training on 12 Sep 2001, I began a new life. Only 1% of Americans have served in the United States Armed Forces. I wasn't sure what I was about to get into, but just as I continue to tell others, "everything happens for a reason." And here we are, about 90 miles from Joplin, MO. We could speculate and debate on why mother nature would produce such a catastrophic natural disaster such as the one that ravaged through MIssouri. From May through June, I couldn't understand how I've been so lucky to live in an area where nothing like this has ever happened, be blessed with a healthy family and surrounded by wonderful and caring people. In late June, the Vet's club President, Rob Marrone entered my office and we began discussing our plans for the 2011 / 2012 Academic year for the Vet's Club. It wasn't a few minutes later that Joplin, MO recovery efforts and photos appeared on our TV in the Vet Center. Just as Rob typically does, he came in my office with an idea: Let's go to Joplin..raise money like we did last year (Gold Star Widow Fundraiser to Saginaw, MI in 2010)..and help the Veterans out. At first, just like I told Rob last night, I thought he was a bit off his rocker. And there we were, talking about how we could make this happen, what resources we would need and the collaboration through various offices on campus to make this mission possible. Just a few days later, we drafted up a letter to send to American Legion Posts along the way to Joplin, drafted a tentative timeline and contacted our University Communications and Public Relations office. I spoke to the Director of Communications and Public Relations and immediately our mission began to transform into something. Just a few days following our initial conversation, a letter was created and mailed out to over 11 American Legions and resourcing began. During the first week of August, we started receiving phone calls, donations and support along the 800+ mile route to the mid-west. From that point forward, everything fell into place. - On Wednesday August 24, we were ready to leave. I could probably type for hours but I'll cut to the chase on our final thoughts of the mission. Over the last 4 years as serving as the Director of Veterans Affairs, I have had the honor and sincere privilege to meet the best of the best (our Student Veterans). Just as we did last year, we had a small task force made up of 3 Army soldiers (Myself, Rob and Bud) as well as a Marine (Mike) that were about to drop everything for 3-4 days and go help our brothers and sisters in Joplin. Although classes start in 3 days and I should be at work right now (and have a pile of paperwork to process for students starting on Monday), the same bit of selfless service sets with the other Student Vetearns in the van with me. All are "non-traditional" students with families at home, obligations and responsibilities to tend to and just the mental state of mind in getting ready for another semester that starts on Monday the 29th - it's call selfless service. In the Army, the acronym of LDRSHIP (Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage) is adhered to by all soldiers in some shape or manner every day. Since the University has adopted the 3 core values of Integrity, Civility and Responsibility, I have noticed that we, Veterans, live those same 3 additional values and sometimes we don't even realize it. We have sacrificed a lot in our many years (nearly 50 total years of active duty years between the 4 of us) but we continue to serve our nation in other ways. - This mission to Joplin, (in which we are only about 45 minutes out now) has validated that Cal U does in fact build character (and careers) in our students and Alumni. This trip isn't about anything other than those in Joplin. The overall sentiment in the van seems to be rather somber at this point - and I'm not sure if it's because that in the next 15-30 minutes we will see with our own eyes the devastation caused by the tornado or if it's the look on the face of the Veterans at American Legion Post 13 when we arrive showing them that we do support them, from California, Pennsylvania. - We hope to post brief updates later today in Joplin, but just like it is in the military, mission first. As I bring my comments to a close on this lengthy update, I want to personally thank the following personnel who have supported and continue to support the Cal U Office of Veterans Affairs and Vets Club: (1) Dr. Angelo Armenti, your continued support from the top down is evident and there is a reason our University attracts the best of the best in our Veterans and why we continue to be named a "Military Friendly College (2) Dr. Tim Susick, Office of Student Affairs, Nikki Arthur and the rest of the S.A.I. staff for helping us each month (3) The Office of Communications and Public Relations for assisting us in the production of our letters that were mailed to each American Legion Post as well as staying in touch with us for the duration of the trip (checking in on us each day) and coordinating the media along the way (4) Each American Legion Post that we visited on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on our way to Joplin (5) Our Cal U Family for your donations leading up to our departure (for those who donated in response to the "How Far Can Your Dollar Really Go?" campaign - *it is almost to Joplin*) (6) And most importantly, our families and friends back in Pennsylvania - just as you have done in years past, you are the ones in the "rear" keeping things afloat while we are off. A special thanks to my wife, Meghan, for your continous support. 1230 hours (MST) - we are 27 miles away. Continue to follow us live on this blog.. 1800 hours (MST) (R Prah) - Well, we are just leaving Joplin, MO. I will try not to type as much as I did earlier, however, I will say our mission was a success. We were almost spot on with our goal. I did state earlier that it is not about the amount of money we raised for Commander Spiva. It's not about anything more than helping our brothers and sisters in arms and doing the right thing. Just as Rob Marrone told me and what he told the 11 Veterans at Post 13 that were waiting for us, it's about helping other Veterans who are in need. - We are preparing for our return trip this evening (an hour behind Cal U time). There are a few things I'd like to mention on this blog: - 1. From southwestern PA to Joplin, MO, the American Legion stands for more than just a place to hang out and socialize. At one post / club, only Veterans (Legionnaires, Sons of the American Legion and Ladies Auxiliary) are permitted inside. I'm sure some would be able to dispute on if that's a good idea or not, but the fact of the matter is it's something different and it's obviously proven to be a huge success. - 2. The men that traveled this 800+ mile trip in support of the Vets in Joplin should be commended. Just as I told Commander Spiva, they gave up the last weekend before classes started to help everyone in Joplin. It is students like this that make my job easy. They come up with an idea, coordinate assets and efforts and then execute. For military students, little guidance is needed. They take a task and run with it. - 3. Now it's time to support those who supported us, our mission and those in Joplin. On our return trip, we are going to try to stop back in St. Clair, MO and Pickerington, OH. These are just two of the posts that welcomed us with open arms and supported our mission. If there is anything we can do to thank them, it would be to stop back in and briefly thank them for their support and let them know our mission was a success due to their support.