Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund hosted its annual fundraising dinner on Thursday, May 4, 2017 with co-keynote addresses from retired Air Force Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Carol Freerks and retired Army Sergeant Thomas Block. Lt. Col. Freerks and Sgt. Block joined nearly 450 guests to show support for Minnesota’s service members and their families at the Airport Hilton in Bloomington. Efforts from the evening raised more than $450,000.
The evening’s 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 MWSS – 471 Color Guard posted colors as choir members from VocalEssence, conducted by Philip Brunelle, sang America The Beautiful, Star Spangled Banner and Armed Forces Medley. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Buddy Winn gave an invocation and recognized those who gave their lives in service to the country. MMAF Chair, Roger Sit, 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 also took a moment to recognize World War II veterans, Lloyd Dawley, Joe Collins and Whitey Campbell, who were in attendance. Finally, Roger asked for a moment of silence as a tribute to one of MMAF’s greatest supporters, General John W. Vessey Jr., who passed away on August 18, 2017.
After a short break for dinner, guests were introduced to Lieutenant Colonel Carol Freerks who spoke about her 21 years as a Flight Nurse/Medical Crew Director and Flight Clinical Coordinator with the 934th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron (AES). Lt. Col. Freerks spoke about being deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom where she managed medical crews and supplies and served on medical missions providing in-flight patient care. These flights were vital in providing care to seriously wounded service members as they were transferred to military hospitals. Lt. Col Freerks incorporated over 100 photos from her deployments, giving a visual representation of living conditions on the flight lines of Talil Air Base in Iraq and how it contrasted deployments in Germany and domestically to Andrews Air Force Base. She reinforced how fortunate she felt to serve our wounded service members. Lt. Col Freerks also spoke about how simple gestures, such as cards and thank you notes, went a long way with the morale of the injured service members and the nurses taking care of their patients. She concluded her speech by thanking her family, who supported her along many deployments, and those in attendance for continuing to support the mission of ‘Thanks.”
Tom Hauser then returned to the stage to introduce Army Sergeant Thomas Block, who joined the Army in February 2010 and completed the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program as an Honor Graduate later that year. Sgt. Block spoke about the time he had spent with his grandfather, WWII Vet Joe Collins, and how that led him to becoming a Ranger. Sgt. Block provided insight into the training that led him to his assignment with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and the day that changed his life. On October 6, 2013, while on patrol in search of insurgents planning suicide attacks, Sgt. Block was severely injured and blown 35 feet into a minefield after a suicide bomber detonated the bomb strapped to her body. Tom’s memory of that day included conversation with his unit’s medic, who assured him that he would be okay, and then waking up to a nurse showing great empathy while caring for his wounds. A standing ovation was given to both Sgt. Block and Lt. Col Freerks as he expressed his appreciation for all military doctors and nurses who treat the wounded. Sgt. Block’s story of resilience and perseverance resonated with everyone in attendance, and his prosthetic right eye which bears Captain America’s shield will surely be remembered. As he concluded, Sgt. Block spoke about how a $10,000 grant check from MMAF helped him get through the financial burdens from his injury, and how he will be forever grateful to the organization for being there in his time of need.
Roger Sit and Lt. Col. Freerks returned to the stage and both speakers were presented with plaques from MMAF in appreciation for their service and sacrifices. Lt. Col Freerks was awarded a $500 grant from MMAF for her service. The evening concluded with VocalEssence performing God Bless America as the colors were retired. 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 our Minnesota troops and their families via MMAF, as event expenses were underwritten by the main sponsor, Sit Investment Associates.