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Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018
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Personal loss won’t stop philanthropist’s 9/11 fundraiser

For those who were alive and cognizant on that day, Sept. 11, 2001 will always evoke memories and emotion.

Like probably everyone, I remember exactly where I was.

It started out as one of the most beautiful September mornings ever. I was in my office at the Philadelphia City Paper working on a story about an African trade conference coming to town.

At 8:46 a.m., everything changed when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. At 9:37 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. At 10:07 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

All told, nearly 3,000 people died that day. Many first responders who worked in and around the crash sites have suffered health issues since. And more than 6,500 U.S. troops have been killed, more than 50,000 have suffered physical wounds and as many as a half-million others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder from the two wars launched in response.

As the years go by, Jo Brower is committed to making sure that no one ever forgets what happened when al-Qaida hijackers turned airliners into ordnance.

And for the longtime St. Petersburg fundraiser, the 13th anniversary of the attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania has a special meaning.

Earlier this year, John Stross, her fiance and co-founder of their nonprofit organization Remember Honor Support, passed away, leaving her not just in mourning, but with the responsibility of having to put on two 9/11-related charity events without him.

“I lost the love of my life,” she says referring to Stross, a philanthropist and co-owner of Leverock’s Seafood who died in May at 71.

Remember Honor Support will put on its third annual Patriot Day Memorial Breakfast, designed to commemorate those who died that day and raise funds for military and first responder charities.

For Brower, 58, it’s what the military calls “Charlie Mike” — continue the mission.

“It’s been very hard to deal with,” says Brower. “If John were here, he would be doing the agenda, so now I have had to learn to do the agenda. He would be getting all the people coordinated, now I’ve got that all done. I will also be out there, selling the rest of tables, even though both John and I always did it together.”

Brower says she is not alone in her endeavor. Her board of directors and community leaders like Bill Edwards have stepped up to help, both with money and organizing, she says, adding there is a good reason.

Not only does the breakfast honor the lives lost on 9/11, but it is also a fundraiser. Last year three charities each received $50,000 thanks to the breakfast, which more than 700 attended.

Brower says she hopes to be able to do the same for this year’s charities — the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Southeastern Guide Dogs Paws for Patriots program and the Gold Shield Foundation.

Unlike the two previous 9/11 memorial breakfasts, which also paid tribute to Medal of Honor recipients, this year’s will be split into two fundraising events, says Brower,

There will be a separate Medal of Honor luncheon Tuesday from noon to 1:15 p.m. at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park, 950 Lake Carillon Dr., St. Petersburg.

The luncheon will feature four Medal of Honor recipients; Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, former Army Sgt. Gary B. Beikirch, retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Gary L. Littrell, and former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha.

Seats cost $150 per person.

The Patriot Day Memorial Breakfast will take place Thursday, 7 to 9 a.m., at The Historical Coliseum, 535 4th Ave. N., St. Petersburg.

Doors open at 6:30 a.m. for a mix and mingle. Seats cost $100.

The guest speaker will be retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who ran U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2012.

Brower says that as of Friday afternoon, there were about 50 seats left for the breakfast and a limited number of seats left for the lunch.

For more information, go to rememberhonor support.org or call Brower at (727) 580-6547.

There are a couple of other 9/11 events taking place in the region. I am probably leaving out a few, and I apologize in advance.

Thursday evening, New Port Richey’s annual Sept. 11th Memorial event will be held at Sims Park.

“This is an opportunity for the community and visitors to reflect on our nation’s loss and remember the victims and their families,” according to the city’s website. “The memorial service serves as a time for the people to unite as Americans, participate in prayer by local clergy and hear patriotic music by choral groups from local schools. There will also be a display of artwork from Pasco County students.”

The music starts at 6:30 p.m. The memorial services runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

And 11:30 a.m. Saturday the Veterans Council of Hillsborough County Inc., Hillsborough County and AMVETS Post 44 in Plant City will hold the annual POW/MIA Remembrance Day Ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park and Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr. Veterans Museum, 3602 U.S. 301 N., Tampa.

After the ceremony, AMVETS Post 44 is hosting its annual Patriots Day event and Remembrance Ride, kicking off at 1 p.m. with a keynote speech by Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor.

There will be live entertainment from local performers, craft and merchandise vendors and interactive displays from the military and first responders. Tickets are available at the event, which includes food, beverages and raffle items.

The Remembrance Ride will feature groups of motorcyclists starting from five locations around the Bay area and simultaneously converging at Veterans Memorial Park for the Patriots Day Observance.

For more contact Walt Raysick at (813) 653-4924 or [email protected] or Michael Graham, Commander, AMVETS Post 44 at [email protected] or (813) 240-6996.

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Last week, I wrote about how a $101 million federal budget shortfall has forced the Florida Army National Guard to reschedule its September drill, pushing it back to the end of the month.

Florida Army National Guard leadership decided to make the drill optional for most of the 9,000 soldiers because of the hardship of having to scramble to take a new weekend away from family and jobs.

One person who knows the difficulties faced by Guard and Reserve troops, and who has pushed to make their lives easier, is Hillsborough County Judge Gregory P. Holder.

Aside from serving as a judge, Holder also served as state chairman of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and is now the area chairman. The ESGR is a volunteer-run agency of the Department of Defense. It was created to ensure employers live up to their commitments to National Guard and Reserve troops called to duty and to help those returning from service find work.

And not only is Holder a retired colonel who spent 29 years in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve, he is also the parent of Capt. Dan Holder, an Air Force pilot who flew missions in support of the Air Force Special Operations Command in Kandahar and now flies C-17s with the flying branch’s Pacific Air Forces.

The Pentagon last month honored Holder with the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service for his role with ESGR from October 2011 to August 2014.

“Judge Holder’s exceptional leadership, dedication and commitment to the mission of the Florida Committee significantly enhanced and sustained employer support for the men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces Guard and Reserve,” according to the award citation. “Judge Holder’s performance and initiative were the driving force behind substantive improvements to essential Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve programs, including Employer Outreach, Military Outreach, Ombudsman Services and the Employment Initiative Program. Committing much personal time, he routinely went above and beyond the requirements of his position to support the mission of Headquarters Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the Florida State Committee, and the thousands of Guardsmen and Reservists in Florida and their supportive employers. The distinctive accomplishments of Judge Holder reflect great credit upon himself and the Department of Defense.”

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The Pentagon announced the death of a soldier last week in Afghanistan.

Spc. Brian K. Arsenault, 28, of Northborough, Massachusetts, died Sept. 4, in Ghazni, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when his unit was engaged by enemy small-arms fire. Arsenault was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

There have now been 2,333 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.

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