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"Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end". Scott Adams, American cartoonist
If Saturday's Veterans Salute warmed your heart at the Nebraska-Northwestern game, you're going to love this story that begins three years ago with Major Doug Boganhagen being able to enjoy watching Nebraska football DVDs while he was deployed in Afghanistan.
The recipient of one small act of kindness, Boganhagen said those videos lifted his spirits and made a difference in the precious time he spent away from his family while serving his country, and he had no idea how his own act would create a ripple with no logical end. Because he wanted to thank someone and pay his kindness forward, his path crossed with Gary McGirr, who works at Washburn University in Topeka and is the Northeast Kansans for Nebraska alumni president.
Following Nebraska's policy of sending football videos to Nebraska units with permission of their commanding officers, McGirr became an unknown and unlikely intermediary for certain Nebraskans serving our country, and along the way, he was able to build relationships that helped form the foundation for a grassroots-driven, Nebraska-based initiative called Husker Salute, which has brought together more than 400 Nebraska soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to Lincoln's Cornhusker Hotel in 2008-09-10-11.
"We honor them and thank them for their service to our nation, whether they're active duty, National Guard, reserves, retired or veterans," McGirr said. "We just want them to know that Husker Nation will never forget their sacrifice and dedication."
Even though McGirr has been a catalyst for the cause, he would be the last to take credit, believing that he was just one person touching one heart, who, in turn, touched another, and by the time everyone reached out to each other, the result was something no one could have imagined. Boiling it all down, McGirr believes Husker Salute shows how each of us can make a difference for all of us.
One Simple Request Caused Chain Reaction
The trail to this unique citizens saluting troops success story is a bit long and complicated, but I'll do my best to describe the triggers and the chain reactions.
It started in late 2005 when Miles Froehling, a military policeman, wrote to Omahan Dan McGlynn, asking if he could send some Husker T-shirts to Iraq. McGlynn had spoken at a picnic sponsored by McGirr's alumni group. Froehling, stationed in Bagdad, was surprised when a box of sweatshirts arrived. They were gone in 60 seconds, and McGlynn, known as "Husker Dan", wrote an article and asked for more.
At McGirr's request, Steve Clark at the Red Zone in Omaha produced a plan on how to ship gift boxes to Nebraska troops in Iraq and Afghanistan at their request. A year later, Lincoln's Josh Howard was stationed in Bagdad and asked "Husker Dan" if they could expand the offerings.
That set the stage for another small act of kindness that became a big part of the ripple. The late Betty Walker of Lincoln sent a $100 check to donate to the cause, and that check became the first deposit in an account that became seed money for McGirr's "big idea".
Enter Major Jon Harvey, an executive officer (second in command) in an Army battalion stationed in Bagdad. When Harvey thanked McGirr for his gift box, McGirr told him about his idea to honor troopers for a weekend in Lincoln. A grateful Major Harvey said if McGirr would provide the funding, he would do the planning. "Major Harvey is a true officer and a gentleman," McGirr said, pointing out how Harvey was another benefactor who became an additional force to pay it forward.
McGirr's big idea? Reserve 100 rooms at the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel and invite active troops and Nebraska veterans to Lincoln on a Husker road game weekend. Provide transportation to get them in and out of the hotel, guide them on a tour of Memorial Stadium, give them an opportunity to shop at a book store at heavily discounted prices and host a hotel "tailgate" party where they can watch a Nebraska game together in the midst of being honored themselves.
Jeff Makovicka and David Fiala to the Rescue
"I was looking for initial funding and didn't know who to call, so I called Jeff Makovicka (1992-93-94-95 letter-winning fullback from Brainard, Neb.). I've known Jeff for 10 years," McGirr said, "so I asked him if he knew anyone who would donate money and pay for 100 rooms at a local hotel for an event we decided to call Husker Salute." Fortunately, Jeff knew someone ... David Fiala, a Seward, Neb., native who lettered as a Nebraska linebacker in 1992 and '93. Fiala has donated to the event every year, and he's already agreed to donate to the 2012 event. Other well-known but anonymous individuals and local organizations also support the cause.
"Husker Salute is a non-profit organization that relies on Husker fans helping Husker veterans," McGirr said. "We want to show our past and current military personnel that we value what they've done for our country, and this is simply our way to give back. We have been truly blessed. The money we continue to raise is a mystery to me. There have been several times over the last four years when we've wondered how we would get the donors we need. But somehow, some way, they always come through."
We offer one poignant footnote to this amazing effort to salute Huskers who serve our country.
"During the 2008 event, we went over to Memorial Stadium, and I saw four gentlemen kneel down to pray at the 50-yard line," McGirr said. "I found out they were all Vietnam veterans. When I talked to them later, they told me that weekend was the first time anyone had ever thanked them for serving their country. That's when I knew we had to step this thing up and do it right, even though we can never repay them for what they've given up for us. For me, saluting them seems like the least we can do."
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Voices from Husker Nation
Regarding your upcoming promotion, I thought I would pass on a key piece of information: You are requiring that that a Military ID be presented at the Will Call office when picking the tickets up. Only active duty and retired military have government-issued Military IDs. I served in the US Navy for six years and was honorably discharged at the end of my obligated service, but every time a promotion or a discount is offered and a valid Military ID is required, I am unable to participate because I no longer have a Military ID. The same goes for every other veteran that didn't stay in long enough to retire. That also means that veterans from recent/current conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan are not able to take advantage of your promotion either, unless they are still members of the National Guard. I appreciate the thought, but really the promotion should be specified that it is only for active duty and retired personnel - not all military veterans. Travis Hoops, Omaha, Nebraska
Editor's note: Thank you, Travis, for pointing this out and please understand that we do not want to leave veterans out of this promotion. Hugh Greenwood, who played college football with Tom Osborne at Hastings College, wrote from Colorado, mentioning the same issue veterans face in military promotions, so we are pleased to confirm that military personnel who are not retired or on active duty can still qualify for this promotion. We accept the following forms of ID for record of service: Military I.D., Legion Club Card, VFW Club Card and DD214 Form (discharge papers).
I was mentioned in your Husker Salute article and am now attending college in Chicago. Many years have passed, and I just want you to know how much Husker Dan, and the rest of the Husker Salute team's actions meant to the 308th Transportation Co. It was a long, hard year. Things seemed bleak at times, and getting those Nebraska football game videos was a huge lift in morale for our troops. I am so thankful for Husker Dan and the Husker Salute team. It was a true act of kindness. It's great to hear that it's still going on and even growing. I have yet to make it to the Husker Salute weekend but I intend to be there next year. Thank you for writing your article and keep spreading awareness to the rest of Husker Nation. Thanks again and God bless. GBR! Joshua R. Howard, Chicago, Illinois
This is from a long lost friend from Legion baseball. I am now living back in Lincoln after living elsewhere for 23 years. Nice to be back going to Nebraska football games in the seats my Dad bought in 1956. I read your article, "One Caring Act Becomes Worldwide Husker Salute" and I was moved by the last paragraph about the Vietnam vets. I, too, served as a medic in Vietnam, setting up Mash Units. It's wonderful how the general public has embraced the veterans but that was not the case during the Vietnam conflict. I have been a Legionnaire for almost 45 years, and I am proud to have served my country. The program "Husker Salute" is a wonderful program. I would like to make a donation but I did not see an address where I could send my check. Thanks. Bob White, Lincoln, Nebraska
I'm a veteran of 21 years in the Air Force (1965-1989) with a 2-year break. I would like to
send a small donation to the fund. I have a limited income, but can afford to help in the funding to help keep this event going strong. Thank you. Pete Gomez, Maintenance Lead, Regal-Beloit, Blytheville, Arkansas
Editor's Note: Gary McGirr says there are two ways to donate: 1) online on the sponsor page (by credit card) at www.huskersalute.org; or 2) send a check to: Husker Salute; Attn Gary McGirr; 3610 SW Woodvalley Terr.;Topeka, KS 66614
Read your article and wondered how one gets picked for this event. I'm a retired Hospital Corpsman, US Navy veteran with two tours of Vietnam and a Purple Heart to show for it. James Thompson, HMC USN Ret, McCook, Nebraska
Editor's Note: McGirr tells us: "We don't pick the veterans or active duty troops. They sign up when the event website opens every year. The 2012 event is planned for Oct. 20-22, 2012. Registration usually begins in April or May after we finalize funding. Our budget is $30,000-$35,000 annually, and we appreciate every dollar that comes in to make it happen. The site for registration is also www.huskersalute.org.