Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.
The two Landings retirees talked quietly as they sat, drinking coffee and contemplating how to reach out to area service members who have an emergency financial need. The retired professionals represent many other ‘low-key’ retirees from the upscale-gated community who want to express their appreciation and compassion for our nation’s warriors with their money and skills.
They have made that difference over the last five years with proceeds from the Landings Military Family Relief Fund that go to Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen who find themselves in situations with needs that fall outside the parameters of regular financial help. This year, the 8,500-resident Landings community has donated $111,500 to the fund, and that number continues to rise. Since the fund was created five years ago, residents have donated $831,970; the Red Cross has processed 772 case requests and distributed grants to 2,566 Service members and their Families, the majority of them Soldiers.
“Sustaining this fund has become the pride of our community,” said Lou Molella, LMFRF chairman, who is looking for avenues to ‘energize’ the fund and remind the military community about the availability of this assistance. “We represent a group of true patriots.”
The Landings community is also proud of the recognition that the fund’s highly effective leaders received April 10-11 from Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden at a ceremony for 20 finalists in the White House’s ‘Joining Forces Community Challenge.’
The LMRF placed 6th among the 20 best volunteer groups (among 400) who serve the military community around the nation. Five winners were chosen by the ‘people’s choice,’ according to David Leslie, a LMFRF volunteer and former executive staff member of former President John F. Kennedy.
Leslie accompanied Molella to Washington D.C. (along with their wives) to participate in the ceremony. Also attending was a LMFRF recipient, Sgt. Alexander Decker, a Soldier from the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Hunter, and his wife Robin. The couple received financial assistance for their six-month old twin daughters who were born with cranial deformations.
The two days of recognition started with a tour of the White House and ended with a ceremony on the White House lawn with about 400 people in attendance, including the secretary of defense, senators, congressmen and other high-ranking officials.
Leslie said he enjoyed meeting other groups that are also working to help military Families in unique ways. One project that was particularly inspiring was initiated in Utah where volunteers made pillowcases for members of the National Guard who deployed. The volunteer group made pillowcases for guardsmen with their children’s pictures on them; they also made pillowcases for children with pictures of their deployed parents on them.
“It was so moving,” said Leslie, admitting, when he thinks about the project, it always brings tears. “We all satisfy a unique niche with military Families; we’re always inspired to do more.”
But there are requirements for receiving assistance, and according to Leslie, ‘it’s not for deadbeats’ but for those with legitimate needs in emergency situations.
Requests are submitted to the fund through the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield chain of command. If the Red Cross caseworkers approve it, a grant is issued and no repayment of the money is required. The fund requires that the Red Cross give money only to military recipients who live in coastal Georgia. Without administrative costs taken from the fund, the grants allow 100 percent of the donated money to go directly to service members and their Families. Most often, funds are used to meet unexpected medical bills, living expenses, house and auto repairs, to name a few. One young Soldier received a grant to purchase a plane ticket to his mother’s bedside after she was critically injured in an automobile accident; another grant, to a young female Soldier to finance a quick move away from an unsafe environment.
Molella and other board members continue to meet with unit leaders and chaplains to educate them about the fund so leaders can make referrals when they spot Soldiers with legitimate financial needs not covered by regular Army support channels. The well-honed referral process is relatively simple and can be expedited within 24 hours through the command if necessary, said Molella.
“We have not functioned in a vacuum,” he added, “Since the beginning, the commanding generals have been very vocal with their support and have thanked us personally.” Those leaders include retired Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch; Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo; Brig. Gen. Jeffery Phillips, and Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams.
In a note to Brig. Gen. Phillips in 2010, Molella attempted to explain why he and other Landings residents volunteer and to thank the senior leader for his support.
“We walk a fine line,” Molella said. “Some view us as camp followers or name droppers, but they are so wrong. At our age, we serve solely out of respect and love that motivates us to do some little thing that may help our Soldiers and their Families. It’s individuals like you who make our efforts weightless.”