| Inaugural Dream Comes True
Inaugural Dream Comes True
Becker Couple Attends, Thanks To Generous Donors
A daycare mom and an IT Tech from Becker returned from the president's inauguration Wednesday following an eventful week that almost never happened.
Staff Sgt. Dan Westby and his wife had been invited to the President's Inaugural Ball and received two tickets to the event through Dan's National Guard rank. Tight finances and a shoe-string budget put the once-in-a-lifetime trip in peril.
A few weeks ago, Westby, an IT Tech with the Robbinsdale School District, learned he could put his name in a lottery for a chance to garner a couple of tickets to attend President Barack Obama's second term inauguration this past weekend. One hundred and eighty tickets became available for soldiers nationwide - 130 for Westby's rank.
Westby is one of only two Minnesota soldiers invited to Washington D.C. for the event Monday.
Last Thursday, Dan and his wife, Kari received word they were indeed the beneficiaries of two tickets, so they immediately got busy making plans for the trip as quickly as they could, assuming all expenses were included in the deal.
Kari went out and bought a new gown, Dan reserved a hotel room in one of the few open hotels available for $200-$500 a night. A day or two before the flight, the Westbys were on the verge of cancelling their dream trip because the funding fell through.
That's where the Westby's commend the TV Station WCCO for fulfilling their hopes.
WCCO Reporter Rachel Slavik did a pre-story of the couple last week and in her story she told her viewers the family was considering abandoning the trip.
"We just don't know how we're going to get there," Kari said in the interview. "If we can't go, it's going to break both our hearts."
At that point, the couple began searching for plane tickets -- the cheapest being $600 each.
The Westbys got word immediately after the story ran on TV that donations were coming in to aid them in their trip.
"As soon as people saw that a soldier was involved, people started giving," said Kari. "The station at one point had to stop taking donations because of the generosity of all these people."
Sun Country's CEO contacted the Westbys and told them not to worry about the flight, that he would provide first-class tickets for them to and from Washington D.C. Other donors covered their hotel, spending money, souvenirs for the kids and transportation.
And Kari's beautiful new gown was covered as well.
"A woman from New Prague drove all the way to our house here in Becker to give us a check to pay for our expenses," said Kari. "I was just weeping as I asked her why she would do such a caring thing."
"She told me she wanted to honor a soldier for all they've done for this country," said Kari.
"If it weren't for the generosity of other people that was completely a gift from God, it would not have happened," said Dan.
In Washington, the Westbys got a room in an exclusive hotel along the parade route and near the U.S. Capitol. As part of their special treatment, the Wetstbys were allowed to watch the parade from their hotel rooftop with dozens of snipers and secret service officials nearby.
They also were interviewed live on TV by Reporter Suzanne Malveaux from CNN.
One of the couple's favorite moments was at the Commander-in-Chief's Ball which included guests of active-duty, reserve military, Medal of Honor recipients, Wounded Warriors and their spouses. Dan and Kari had the opportunity to meet and talk to Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army.
"Wow, to see the commander in chief and talk with the chief of staff has been like a dream for me," said Dan, who has served for 16 years in the Guard. "I am so blessed to have been given this opportunity to meet my superiors."
Dan has been deployed three times, once to Kosovo in 1999-2000 and twice to Iraq (2003-05, 2009). His duties are to detect enemy forces and track indirect fire as a field artillery radar operator.
Kari works as a daycare provider out of her home and the Westbys have seven children, ages ranging from four to 14. Kari is also attempting to launch a Family Readiness Group (FRG) in Becker and have the City of Becker designated as a "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" city. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is a comprehensive program that creates awareness for the purpose of connecting Service members and their families with community support, training, services and resources.
"This whole experience has just been amazing," said Kari. "So many people stepping forward to help us out and showing their appreciation for my husband and his service. It's been like a dream."
1/25/2013 4:27:00 PM
Gold Star Fathers Share Story of Love, Service and Sacrifice
Posted: 2015-03-25 08:45 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - "A Gold Star family member is a person who has lost a loved one who was serving our nation in the armed forces regardless of the circumstances of the death," said Survivor Outreach Services provider Amy Garber.
Bill Smith, father of Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, and Richard Cauley, father of Spc. George Cauley, two Gold Star dads, recently spoke about their sons and what it means to be a Gold Star father.
"Everyone's greatest fear is the thought they'll say something awkward [to a Gold Star family member]. We want to talk about our loved ones. The greatest sadness would be that no one would remember," said Bill Smith.
334th Brigade Engineer Battalion Celebrates Women's History
Posted: 2015-03-22 01:39 PM
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Soldiers of Headquarters, Headquarters Company of the 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion took time away from training to celebrate Women's History Month with a look at the history of women in the Minnesota National Guard from someone who lived it.
Invited to speak at the event was Geraldine Longfellow. In 2008, Longfellow retired from the Minnesota Army National Guard at the rank of lieutenant colonel. She has since been brevetted to the rank of colonel.
Camp Ripley Guardsman Recognized as "Big Brother of the Year"
Posted: 2015-03-18 03:40 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - For many Service members of the Minnesota National Guard, dedication to the community is as high of a priority as any other mission.
"We feel it is our duty, in our own communities, to ensure that our friends and neighbors are taken care of," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Ross.
Ross, who has been an active member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota for over three years, as well as a member of the Minnesota National Guard, was recently recognized by the agency as "Big Brother of the Year" for the State of Minnesota.
Young Soldiers, Big Plans
Posted: 2015-03-17 01:26 PM
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - Soldiers join the National Guard for many different reasons. Some are seeking the adventure and experience, some are looking for career opportunities and school benefits, and some soldiers simply want to serve their country.
At some point in a soldier's enlistment, he or she will be asked, are you going to re-enlist? Enlistment contracts for the National Guard often are an eight-year obligation with four or six years of active drilling service. Some soldiers leave the Army, and others decide to take the opportunities they've been offered and make a career.
Sgt. Brittany Grams, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 34th Combat Aviation Brigade medical noncommissioned officer, and Spc. Freddie Williams IV, HHC 34th CAB human resource specialist, are making careers, and the transition from enlisted soldier to officer.