Volume LVMay 2008Number 2

Thank You for Supporting Our Troops

"I want to thank you and your
organization for their remarkable
support of the military. Giving
families the ability to communicate
while separated on a deployment is
absolutely invaluable!"
- Airmen and Family Readiness Center

Since Grand Master Stephen Gardner announced the Change for the Troops program on Dec. 27, Pennsylvania Masons have stepped up and surpassed his expectations.

As of April 23, more than $50,000 was donated through our lodges' and districts' collections, as well as contributions made by other individuals and Masonic groups, such as the National Sojourners, Schools of Instruction, Harrisburg Forest, Lu Lu and Mercer Shrines, Valley of Harrisburg and Eastern Star chapters and at special events such as lodge banquets, the Annual Communication, Florida Masonic Reunions and a Masonic Education Seminar. These donations have allowed for the purchase of 1,000 300-minute calling cards, 552 of which have been distributed to our troops serving overseas. The cards will continue to be distributed throughout the end of the year.

So, exactly how are the cards getting into the hands of our service men and women?

That question is best answered by Air Force Col. and Bro. Harris H. Brooks, Brotherhood Lodge No. 126, Philadelphia.

When Grand Master Gardner asked Bro. Brooks to coordinate the distribution of the cards to the troops heading overseas, he was eager to help. He spoke with Bro. Jeffrey L. Goodman, Worshipful Master of Lodge No. 126, who was very enthusiastic about and supportive of the lodge's involvement.

"This truly is a wonderful thing for us, as Pennsylvania Masons, to have the opportunity not only to support our troops, but to do so in a way that represents the fraternity so positively," Bro. Brooks said.

Bro. Brooks enlisted the help of other lodge brothers, including his son-in-law, Captain and Bro. Daniel R. Fehl, who is currently flying C-17s with the Air Force Reserve out of McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. (and who is married to his daughter, Jennifer, also a Captain in the Air Force Reserve). He also requested the assistance of Bro. Sam Freeman, P.M., and Bro. Marvin R. Levy, P.M., Lodge Secretary, whose son, 2LT. and Bro. Andrew "Chip" Levy, Lodge No. 126, is on active duty at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Pulling their resources and contacts together, the men took on the challenge of ensuring the calling cards would travel from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania into the hands of service men and women in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

When Barry L. Wheeler, District Deputy Grand Master for District 31, held an Official Visit with Gummert Lodge No. 252, Fayette City, he was pleased by the ingenuity Bro. Robert A. Farquhar, P.M., Secretary, used in promoting the Change for the Troops program. He is lending his Marines military helmet for collecting Change for the Troops in his lodge over the next two years.

The group originally set up a relationship with TSgt Kevin Casciano, Family Readiness NCO for Airmen and Family Readiness Flight 305th AW at McGuire Air Force Base, which helps to deploy troops and works with families while their loved ones are deployed. The center helps to ensure that each and every soldier, sailor and airman receives a calling card upon departure. Due to the generosity of Pennsylvania Masons, the center provides 125-135 cards to our troops who are departing for the war zone each month to use to call home.

"Everybody has been receptive and appreciative," Bro. Brooks said.

Bro. Brooks and his team also have established relationships with various military groups that will deploy out of Pennsylvania this year.

The 3rd Battalion 103rd Armor of Pennsylvania was the first Pennsylvania unit deploying to the war zone that received calling cards from Pennsylvania Freemasons.

Ms. Jean Moretti, Wing Family Program Coordinator for the 111th Fighter Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit out of Willow Grove, Pa., has gone out of her way to help the brethren track down and provide cards to units based in Pennsylvania, even those beyond her responsibility. Units from the 111th Fighter Wing from Willow Grove will receive calling cards as they deploy into the war zone throughout the year.

In the near future, the group will be working with a Marine Corps Reserve Unit based in Harrisburg, Pa., who will be deploying later this spring. Members of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and Bro. Brooks' team plan to do a presentation as the unit departs for training to announce that the fraternity will provide each of them with a calling card as they deploy for the war zone.

Having served 40 years in the military and retired this past March, Bro. Brooks most recently served with the Air Force National Security and Emergency Preparedness Agency out of Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. He knows first-hand what it's like to have limited contact with one's family in times of conflict. A veteran of the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, where he served as a Deputy Director for the Aero-medical Evacuation out of [theater] Saudia Arabia, Bro. Brooks says the calling cards provide the troops a free and convenient way to call home.

Even though his family wrote him every day while he was deployed, he often wouldn't get an answer to the questions he asked until four weeks later, and by then it was old news. "If they [troops] can afford to use electronics for immediate communication, they can get to talk to their babies, their wives and their moms," Bro. Brooks said.

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