Former CIA officer Michael Hurley highlighted a memorable night in support of our Minnesota service members on Wednesday, May 6, 2015. A national security and terrorism expert, Mr. Hurley joined 500 other guests to show support for Minnesota’s service members and their families at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington. Efforts from the evening raised more than $500,000.
The evening began with a question and answer session moderated by MMAF Board Member Barry Winslow between Mr. Hurley and former CIA officers Chris and Mary Welsh. This intimate session allowed some of MMAF’s largest donors the opportunity to hear about covert operations including the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
The evening’s main program was emceed by Tom Hauser of KSTP 5-Eyewitness News. Tom welcomed guests and provided a wonderful introduction to MMAF for those not already familiar with the organization. The 34th Infantry Division Honor Guard posted colors as choir members of VocalEssence, conducted by Philip Brunelle, sang the Star Spangled Banner and Armed Forces Medley. Chaplain Colonel John Morris gave an invocation and invited General John W. Vessey, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the stage. General Vessey emphasized the fact that veterans’ organizations like MMAF are needed now more than ever. Roger Sit, MMAF Chair, updated guests on the progress the organization has made since inception in 2005 and reiterated that the mission of MMAF will continue until all Minnesotans have returned from hostile soil. Roger Sit then offered a short tribute to Avis Vessey, General Vessey’s wife of 69 years, who passed away days before the event.
After a short break for dinner, guests were introduced to Jim Redpath, father of an Army Special Forces officer who has served three combat deployments. Mr. Redpath spoke of how his youngest son Jimmy had been looking for direction in life and found it within the Army, a story with which many in the audience could relate. Mr. Redpath spoke with pride as he described the changes he saw in his son and the respect the others in his son’s unit had for Jimmy. Mr. Redpath offered a “thank you” to all parents of service members in attendance, along with all of those who had proudly served their country.
Tom Hauser then returned to the stage to introduce MMAF grant recipients Major Jackie Stenger and Master Sergeant (Retired) Ron Stenger who shared their unique experience of raising two daughters while serving in the Minnesota National Guard. Ron and Jackie were each deployed to combat zones over the course of several years. The Stenger’s spoke of the varying emotions faced by their daughters when getting ready for deployment, deploying and returning home.
The evening’s keynote speaker, Michael Hurley, addressed the crowd and related his experiences as a manager in the CIA. He had already served a long career when the attacks of September 11, 2001 took place. Within weeks, his career path changed and led him to the mountains of Afghanistan where he was heavily involved in joint operations between the CIA and coalition forces. Over the course of three deployments to Afghanistan, Mr. Hurley cultivated local spies, gathered intelligence, met with warlords and endured weeks of bombing. He graciously shared pictures of his time in Afghanistan, showing jarring visuals of a landscape that seemed otherworldly to the guests in attendance. Upon returning to the U.S. from Afghanistan, Hurley directed the 9/11 Commission Counterterrorism Policy Investigation. Mr. Hurley expressed gratitude toward the coalition forces he encountered while deployed and indicated that it is still very important to show appreciation for those who deploy, as there are Minnesotans serving throughout the world in locations both known and unknown. The insight shared by Mr. Hurley is something that those in attendance will not soon forget.
As the main fundraising event for MMAF, we appreciate the individuals and corporate sponsors who gave so generously. One hundred percent of funds raised at the dinner went directly to MMAF, as event expenses were underwritten by the main sponsor, Sit Investment Associates.