They won’t be home for the holidays. But for those here in Sag Harbor, that doesn’t mean the soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan will be forgotten.
Organized by local non-profit organization Jordan’s Initiative, the annual Care Packages for Our Troops event to be held this Saturday, November 19 at the Sag Harbor Ambulance Barn will bring community members together for the purpose of assembling gift packages to send to soldiers overseas. Flanked by piles of cardboard boxes, non-perishable food items, toiletries, toys and other holiday goodies, volunteers will create roughly 250 boxes by the end of the weekend.
“From start to finish we’ll probably have about 30 volunteers,” said event organizer Michelle Severance. “We have kids, we have adults, we have people who just open the packages [of supplies] up and people who simply tape the boxes shut.”
This is actually the second time in 2011 Jordan’s Initiative has sponsored a care package collection drive. Last spring, the organization held a similar event in conjunction with a spaghetti dinner held the Sag Harbor Fire House, which ultimately amassed 185 boxes.
“We’ve gotten a big turn out this year,” Severance exclaimed.
Severance has worked alongside her partner and Jordan’s Initiative co-founder Christian Haerter to make these care package drives possible. It’s one of many ways Severance and Haerter have reached out to U.S. troops serving abroad since they founded Jordan’s Initiative together in 2008 in memory of Haerter’s son, Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008.
Severance explained that the event is financed entirely by charitable donations made by members of the local community. While Jordan’s Initiative has set up red collection boxes at various locations on the East End — several Bridgehampton National Bank branches, Apple Bank in Sag Harbor and East Hampton, St. Andrews Church in Sag Harbor, The Ross School and Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor — she added that much of Care Packages for Our Troops’ success comes by way of monetary donations.
While the Boy Scouts managed to raise about $860 earlier this year while soliciting donations outside K-Mart in Bridgehampton, Severance said individuals have also sponsored boxes for $20 each. In total, the organization has managed to raise a total of $3,100, which — for Severance and Haerter — means a lot of shopping.
“We went to Walmart to do some shopping yesterday,” Severance described in an interview last Monday. “And we had the longest receipt I’ve ever seen!”
She said they managed to fill three shopping carts with supplies, everything from food and Band-Aids to stuffed animals and Q-tips. For the most part, they send essential items to the soldiers abroad, categorizing their bounty as “things you would need if you were going camping.”
Severance said the list of items they include in each care package has been gleaned from feedback they’ve received from those who are overseas.
“We have great military connections,” she explained. “Over the years, we’ve definitely asked what people would want to get… otherwise we would have never thought to send toys.”
She said several soldiers have requested receiving items they could give to local children in the areas where they serve.
“It’s a really, really good feeling,” Severance said of organizing Care Packages for Our Troops.
Beyond the event’s immediate goal of reaching out to servicemen and women overseas, she added that another important aspects of the project is being in touch with people here in Sag Harbor.
“We want to tell the community that their money really is going toward a good cause.”
A week after Sag Harbor’s L/Cpl Jordan Haerter was honored posthumously with the Navy Cross for his act of heroism saving the lives of dozens of fellow Marines from a suicide bomber last year, he was singled out in President Barack Obama’s speech this Friday morning, February 27, at Camp LeJeune, where Haerter had done his basic training. In his speech, Obama declared the combat mission in Iraq would end by August 31, 2010, and he praised the servicemen and women who fought to liberate the country. In particular he lauded those who gave their lives, mentioning L/Cpl Haerter and the other Marine who died with him that day, Corporal Jonathan T. Yale.
“In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives,” the president said on Friday. “These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck. When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved fifty Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path.”For an excerpt and video of the speech, see theÂ end of this post. Â Â
It was just after 2 a.m. when the bus pulled out of the Pierson High School parking lot in Sag Harbor last Friday, February 20 — headed for the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia for an 11 a.m. ceremony, posthumously awarding the Navy Cross Medal to Lance Cpl. Haerter.
It was a decision made by the Secretary of the Navy, the highest-ranking military official —Â second only to the United States President, that two particular men receive the award for valor.The Navy Cross is the second highest medal awarded for valor in the military, next to the Medal of Honor.
Haerter was a 2006 Pierson graduate, enlisted into the Marines and sent to Iraq last year. His duties came to an abrupt end when he, along with Corporal Yale, were mortally wounded, defending their post from a suicide truck attack in Ramadi, Iraq.
As the two Marines held their positions at a checkpoint just outside a security station, they motioned for the truck to slow down. Both Haeter and Yale noticed the truck was ignoring their requests and identified the vehicle as a threat. They shot at the truck, killing the driver, but at the same time, setting off the 2000 pounds of explosives in the vehicle. Both Haerter, 19 and Yale, 21, belonged to the First Battalion, Ninth Marines. Now they are credited with saving 33 of their own men, and hundreds of others through their heroic efforts.
As friends, family, and military personnel found their way to their seats on Friday at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, Marines surrounded the room, poised at attention.
Haerter’s father, Christian, recalled walking through the museum, when he first arrived, and said it was “breathtaking.”
“It was like a shrine to the Marines,” he said, “a lot of history oozes from there, and to know that we were there specifically in honor of Jordan, brought tears to my eyes.”
As the Marines escorted people into the museum, portraits of both Haerter and Yale stood on easels, underscoring the story of their heroism for everyone who entered that day.
Christian also added there were small framed photos of both Haerter and Yale in the gift shop, with their dates of birth and death. He said he saw those photos and realized what his son’s heroism meant to so many others.
The ceremony began with the Marine band playing the National Anthem.
The men in the One-Eight and One-Nine battalions then “snapped to attention,” according to JoAnn Lyles, Jordan’s mother, as Secretary of the Navy, David Witnner looked them over, to make sure their uniforms were up to military standards. He then released them to parade rest and gave his speech.
“The ceremony was really beautiful,” Lyles recalled. She said the secretary spoke “eloquently”Â about bothÂ young men being honored that day.
“Today’s ceremony is a great occasion to give the American people some sense of the debt we owe to our Marines and to all of our military forces who defend freedom around the world,” said Witnner, the day’s only speaker.
“Jonathan and Jordan are shining examples of the promise of America’s next generation,” Witnner continued. “They could have had many other opportunities in life. Yet they chose to leave these things behind and devote themselves instead to the calling of their country. They gave their lives as they lived them, for truths as emphatic as they are simple: Brotherhood. Loyalty. Devotion. Sacrifice. Extraordinary Heroism—those words epitomize their last selfless act on this Earth.”
Lyles said, amid tears, that she had mixed emotions sitting, listening to the speech.
“As the citations were being read, all the military stood [out of respect] and we were told to stay seated,” Lyles said.
“It was tough,” she said, “it was truly an honor and I was fighting back tears.”
First Witnner stood in front of Yale’s wife, and read the entire citation to her. Then, Witnner moved to both Lyles and Christian and read the citation to them. Witnner presented each parent with the Navy Cross.
During reception ceremony, Tom Toole, a Sag Harbor native and retiree from the U.S. Air Force, who knew Haerter from a young boy, gave Lyles and Christian a hand-made shadow box, made of cherry wood, with replicas of all Haerter’s medals, his dog tags and a reproduction of the Navy Cross inside. Toole also gave each of them a flag that flew over the capital in Albany.
Lyles said now, in her living room, she has a new coffee table, with a velvet lined draw and a glass cover to showcase her son’s achievements.
Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris and Assemblyman Fred W. Theile Jr. both flew down to Virginia Friday morning to participate in the honoring of the two young men.
Ferraris felt the ceremony was impressive and said he was “deeply honored to be able to witness this event, and humbled at the same time.” He added that Haerter was being awarded for such an amazing sacrifice.
Christian said that now, as he sits and reflects on the experience, he told his friend this very same thing:
“I’ve kind of come to realize and accept Jordan’s death. The thing that is hard to believe is the magnitude of what Jordan accomplished and the sacrifice that allowed him to do what he did that day.”
From President Barack Obama’s speech at Camp LeJeune, February 27, 2009:
“The starting point for our policies must always be the safety of the American people. I know that you – the men and women of the finest fighting force in the history of the world – can meet any challenge, and defeat any foe. And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and provide you with the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That is the most important lesson of all –Â for the consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable.
You know because you have seen those sacrifices. You have lived them. And we all honor them.
“Semper Fidelis” – it means always being faithful to Corps, and to country, and to the memory of fallen comrades like Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter. These young men enlisted in a time of war, knowing they would face great danger. They came here, to Camp Lejeune, as they trained for their mission. And last April, they were standing guard in Anbar. In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives. These two Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck. When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved fifty Marines and Iraqi police who would have been in the truck’s path, but Corporal Yale and Lance Corporal Haerter lost their own lives. Jonathan was 21. Jordan was 19.
In the town where Jordan Haerter was from, a bridge was dedicated in his name. One Marine who traveled to the ceremony said: “We flew here from all over the country to pay tribute to our friend Jordan, who risked his life to save us. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
America’s time in Iraq is filled with stories of men and women like this. Their names are written into bridges and town squares. They are etched into stones at Arlington, and in quiet places of rest across our land. They are spoken in schools and on city blocks. They live on in the memories of those who wear your uniform, in the hearts of those they loved, and in the freedom of the nation they served.”