Donor Recognition Event at Fort Snelling
Our generous donors have enabled MMAF to provide cash grants to thousands of Minnesota soldiers. In recognition of this support, an event honoring MMAF donors and the Minnesotans who have served their country was held at historic Fort Snelling on July 16, 2007.
In a full auditorium of over 300 people, Governor Tim Pawlenty, General John W. Vessey, Minnesota Adjutant General Larry Shellito, and MMAF Co-Founder Eugene Sit gave remarks. MMAF grant recipient SGT John Kriesel, a double amputee walking on artificial legs, also made a few remarks. Perhaps the highlight of the program was when SGT Kriesel stated, “To answer your question Mr. Sit – yes, you are making a difference.”
A large plaque that contains the mission of MMAF, its leadership group, and the names of donors who have given $10,000 or more to MMAF was unveiled, and will remain on permanent display at the Fort Snelling Visitor’s Center.
Grant Presentation at the State Capitol
At a special ceremony in the rotunda of the State Capitol on September 11, organizers of MMAF said “thanks” to six Purple Heart recipients and awarded each a $2,000 grant from MMAF.
“When our country faced tragedy six years ago on September 11, 2001, thousands of Minnesotans answered the call of duty. Today we honor a handful of our brave men and women and thank them for their service to our country,” stated Eugene Sit, a founder of MMAF.
Honored grant recipients on that day included:
Staff Sergeant Timothy Nelson of Bemidji. SSG Nelson served as part of the Minnesota Army National Guard. He was injured while on patrol in Iraq after being thrown from his humvee after it was hit by an IED.
Sergeant Robert Hamilton of Chisholm. SGT Hamilton served as part of the U.S. Army Reserve. He was injured in Iraq when an IED exploded one meter from his humvee, where he was stationed at the gun turn.
Sergeant Brett Pappa of Champlin. SGT Pappa served as part of the Minnesota Army National Guard. SGT Pappa was injured when an IED exploded under his scout truck while on patrol.
Sergeant Robert Bleninger of Browerville. SGT Bleninger served as part of the Minnesota Army National Guard. He was injured when his face was hit with shrapnel as result of an IED explosion while on patrol.
Master Sergeant Craig Lia of Alexandria. Master SGT Lia served as part of the U.S. Army and was injured in Iraq.
Specialist First Class Gerald Page of Brooklyn Park. SFC Page served as part of the U.S. Army. He suffered hearing loss from two punctured eardrums after a rocket attack during his tour of duty in Iraq.
MMAF Appreciation Walk and Run
MMAF raised public awareness of the sacrifices made by our military as approximately 1,200 people came to downtown Minneapolis and participated in the third-annual Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Walk and Run on September 22, 2007. All participants received free tickets to the Minnesota Twins game that followed the event, a “thanks” t-shirt, bumper sticker, pin, and ticket vouchers to a Timberwolves game in November.
In a short presentation prior to the Walk and Run, MMAF awarded grants to three Purple Heart recipients: A $10,000 grant was awarded to SPC Darrell Salzman. SPC Salzman lost an arm in the war. Salzman stated that he planned to use his grant to return to school. The second grant award was for $4,000 to double Purple Heart Recipient, E-4 Joshua Revak and a third grant for $2,000 was awarded to SGT Aaron Eicher. These Purple Heart recipients joined SGT Brian Saaristo, to lead the Walk. SGT Saaristo served as Grand Marshall of the event. Saaristo, a MMAF grant recipient, is a double amputee who uses artificial legs. When told that a convertible would be made available to him to ride in for the Walk, he said, “No thanks, I want to WALK.”
SGT Saaristo lead the walkers by 21 flag-decorated motorcycles from the Minnesota Patriot Guard and under a giant 30-foot American flag suspended by two Minneapolis Fire Department trucks. Over 1,000 people followed, creating an impressive visual of support and appreciation for our troops.
The following is a sample of the feedback MMAF received after the event:
- “It sure means a lot that so many people care and are so supportive.”
- “Without telling anyone, our 9-year old contributed his entire $3 allowance into the collection box. His dad, standing about 15 feet away, saw him put the dollar bills, one by one, into the box. To see kids’ awareness raised by such a show of appreciation from so many people is absolutely wonderful.”
- “It was quite an eye opener for me to visit with a solider. I could not help but compare my life with kids, school, work, church, etc. and then listen to his past 18 months.”
- “What a moving and memorable event on Saturday!”
Video of Minnesota Soldiers
MMAF asked its grant recipients to submit photos from their deployment for use in a video tribute to Minnesota families. We received hundreds of wonderful photos, resulting in a moving 3-minute video titled, “Thank You, from Minnesota.”
The video has been described as “tear-jerking” and accurate in how it shows the sadness that surrounds military families over lost time and the worry over those put in harm’s way. Scott Litman, a member of MMAF’s leadership group stated, “The video makes no political statement on whether we should be in conflict overseas. It just says thank you to those who serve.”
Kelly Simer, the wife of soldier who served in Iraq, was among the hundreds who submitted photos for the video. She wept when she watched the video of Minnesota troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families back home. Simer said, “It touches a nerve even though my husband is home now.” She continued, “It brought back feelings of how much I missed him and how thankful I am for what he did. It’s good to know other Minnesotans appreciate it as well.”
Minnesota Timberwolves Operation Heroes Month
In conjunction with the Minnesota Timberwolves “Operation Heroes” month, MMAF presented grants to soldiers at center court at every home game in November 2007. This special opportunity allowed fans to learn about MMAF and to directly applaud our Minnesota service members and their families. Chris Wright, President of the Timberwolves organization stated, “Thanking our soldiers and recognizing their sacrifices is important to the Timberwolves. We are proud to partner with MMAF and provide a little recognition to these Minnesota heroes.”
Eugene Sit – Eleven Who Care
MMAF Founder, Eugene Sit, was recognized as of Kare11 TV’s Eleven Who Care in 2007.