Breakdown or Kismet?

Crossing the country was a retirement dream and something we often talked about, but was a wistful dream.  Now, here we are crossing 21 states in two months.  All the preparations in the world could not prepare us for every possible event…..and believe me, the Old Hippie tried!  He even had his toolbox secured in the trailer….just in case! Along with the golf cart, the ponies, air compressor and back up generator and air conditioner……which all came in handy! hahaha

Driving across country in a 22 year old used RV was an adventure in itself!  It was 34 feet long and we were pulling a 26ft renovated trailer with three dogs…………what could possibly go wrong?  For starters, the steps were broken so we improvised.  We went through two wooden steps (which the old hippie had made) and several cinder blocks which we usually use for our show tent, but came in real handy.  As rookie rv’ers, we tended to drive off and leave the steps behind.  It was a wonder we didn’t run out of cinder blocks! lol

On the first leg, the lights on the trailer shorted out!  Luckily, we noticed before dark, but it would be hours of intense searching for the short before we were on the road again!  Here we were, not even at our first presentation and we are broke down on the side of the road.  Well pass midnight, it seemed smart to just park for the night and get an early start, but no……..the old hippie was sure we needed to get to our first destination.  And was he right!  Both of us had lived in a busy city at some time in our lives, but for the past several years were living the slow life out  in the country.  We hit Chicago in the wee hours and it was a chaotic mess!  Traffic at 3am was ugly! Could not imagine trying to drive that old rv and trailer through rush hour.  Trying to navigate through construction was a nightmare!  At one point, we were AIRBORN!!! Woke the dogs up with a start, luckily they were nestled up so they didn’t get hurt! But, what about all the rockers? When we pulled into the truck stop and opened the trailer door the golf cart (which was ratcheted to the floor with straps) was on its side, but every rocking horse was perfectly in its stall! Completely uninjured! Amazing! Our first breakdown was annoying, but had kept us out of rush hour!

There were many more mishaps,  flat tires, repairs to the engine (twice) doors flapping after the locks broke, skin of the door peeling off, pretty much anything that had a screw in it had to be reattached!  Each breakdown seemed  to take us off course and wreck havoc on our schedule, but in reality…………..each one put us where we were supposed to be for a reason!  As frustrating as they were, we learned quickly to be open to what was about to happen.  Each mishap lead us to someone or some place  that we were meant to be!  It was truly amazing!

At one point, we watched a horrible storm catch up to us.  We took cover at a gas station as Scott tried to position the trailer and rv to keep us from taking a hard hit, but the winds were coming from all directions, so it really didn’t matter.  We watched as a lightning bolt hit a gas tank in front of us and a bone dry parking lot turned into an ankle deep creek. In the mist of the storm a veteran knocked on the door!

Another time, the ride became too much for me and I broke down and took pain medicine which ended up causing car sickness.  We were stuck at one truck stop for three days praying for the car sickness to subside. It gave us the opportunity to meet up with family that we had never met, and watch hot air balloons take off for a festival!  Seemed pretty lucky.  Just when we were filling up the gas tank and ready to hit the road, we received a phone call.  A young man who was severely injured in the same incident that had killed one of our heroes was minutes away and wanted to meet us!  He was a non-military linguist who didn’t always get to take part in the military memorials and wanted to see his friends rocker.  We gladly waited for him to come autograph his friend…………no, his brother’s rocker!  Guess it was very lucky!

Although we tried, not all of the rockers were placed near the fallen’s families, but when they were, we love having the family at the presentation.  One family had planned to attend, when only a week before the presentation the soldiers father was hospitalized with a heart attack.  After months of anticipation, it was heartbreaking to know the family would miss the presentation. So, naturally we took a detour and made a mini presentation!  We met some wonderful people and saw such beautiful smiles!

One Gold Star mother flew in by herself on her birthday!  There was no way she was spending her birthday alone, so we all went out to celebrate!

To say this was an adventure of a lifetime seems like an understatement!

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Surprise Visit

Woke up in Kingman, AZ to a pleasant surprise and some unexpected visitors!

Sitting in the parking lot of the Flying J just off I-40, the Old Hippie opens the rv door to find a gentlemen with his two children outside.

On their way to school, they noticed the trailer, pulled in and googled Hero’s Rock. They were about to go inside to ask them to make an announcement to try and find us, when the old hippie stepped out!

From the road….they got it!!! We have been struggling to get our message out on the road. Our main goal is to bring people together to show our appreciation for our military and their families! This mornings visit is what it is all about!

Naturally, the old hippie was more than eager to show off the remaining Patriotic Ponies! They stayed about 20 minutes making the boys late for school, but dad, a veteran himself, said he would talk to the principal! hahaha!

The boys left with big smiles after posing for a picture with Angus! Always camera ready the whole trip, we were caught off guard and didn’t get a one! Rats!

Thanks guys for making our day!!!!

 

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San Diego, CA

Up bright and early, the old hippies headed up the beautiful streets of San Diego, escorted by the California Patriot Guard to delivery the Patriotic Pony honoring PO3 Doyle W. Bollinger Jr. to the Fisher House at the San Diego Naval Medical Ctr.

 

As we read one of the stories of PO3 Bollinger bringing a sad and hungry child a bit of joy, when he shared his MRE rations. It was hard not to smile and think he would be pleased to know that his memorial rocking horse will continue his good work and keep bringing children smiles!

Always loved………never forgotten!

 

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Grant Medical Center - Sacramento #6

Patriotic Pony Delivery #6 – Sacramento

September 21st, 2016.  On this day we delivered two Patriotic Ponies honoring Army SSG David Nowaczyk and Navy PO3 Dolye Bollinger, Jr.  This presentation was unlike any so far.  This time, we were part of an honors ceremony, were the base was saying thanks to all who gave of themselves in a variety of ways!  This was the largest gathering to date, full of enlisted, retirees’, civilians and even Generals!  It was quite intimidating! But, we were surrounded by the Patriot Guard Riders who leant support in many ways, even filming our speech. lol

It was a majestic spectacle, with a flag line and military band!  One of my favorite parts were when a challenge was issued to see who could sing their battle hymn loudest. If memory serves me correctly, the Air Force won! But, it was amazing to listen to each group sing with such pride!

We listened in ah of the countless deeds of charity and kindness. Our hearts swelled with pride at the amount of love and hope being shared here! And then….it was our turn to talk.  We had grown accustom to the intimate groups of 15 to 30, but this was our largest group to date.  Goosebumps consumed us as we sent our heartfelt thanks to the men and women before us, and spoke of the thousands that we were the spokesmen for.  To look into the group of enlisted and say, “Thank You” directly to them was indescribable! As we read the stories of the young men being honored, not a sound could be heard.  Tears filled our eyes as we finished and saw the crowd come to its feet!  Overwhelmed by the moment, I followed the Old Hippie towards our seats and watched as he shook hands by all he passed, only to realize I had left my cane at the podium.  Just as I started to falter and turned to look back for my cane, one General after another grabbed hold of me, giving me a sturdy hand to lean on, a hug and a thanks as they passed me on to the next.  Four Generals hugged and passed me on until I reached my seat. It was like receiving a hug from every platoon under their command!

It was a magical day!

 

 

What is a Fisher House?

Sometimes I forget, not everyone knows what a Fisher House is or does!Slide1

Fisher Houses are like Ronald McDonald Houses for military. They provide free housing for military or veterans and their families going through prolonged illnesses or injuries.

The best medicine known to mankind is LOVE! Most of us will agree that staying in the hospital is not fun! Frankly, it can be down right scary!  Having a loved one there, can make things a bit easier!  The support  family can give is priceless! Most VA Hospitals are in big cities and some specialize, which can make commuting back and forth impossible.

The Fisher Houses are typically built right next to the hospital. There are currently some 72 Fisher Houses across the United States.  They have community kitchens, laundry, dining and family areas with private rooms, and sometimes suites for families. Having all the amenities of home in one safe place is huge! Add the fact that the staff will grocery shop for you and your family is amazing! You get to eat food that is comfort food for YOU! Maybe you prefer Coke over Pepsi. Cheetos over chips, Reese cups over Butterfingers…….they get what YOU want.

What if it was under emergency circumstances! The staff will supply whatever is needed: toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, tennis shoes, boots, a sweater??? How many times have we travelled with a child and a shoe has gone missing! They are amazing! Whatever you need, they will make sure you get it!  It is all done by donations. Some Fisher Houses are NOT allowed to ask for donations, but they CAN accept them!

Presentation2In the short time that we had to visit with residents, it reminded me of similar situations and how it felt to be in their shoes. All they care about is their loved one! They are exhausted, scared and tired! They are hopeful and some too insightful! All the worries and fears I’ve ever felt sitting in a hospital with a loved one came rushing back in! We’ve all been there….or at least most of us have. There were amputees getting rehab, cancer victims fighting to be survivors…..there was one man who was badly burned, lost his fingers…but so happy that he still had his hands. He was so strong, brave and full of spirit! I remember asking if I could give him a hug and when he said yes………terrified I would hurt him! He had come so far………..and with the love of his life right by his side the whole way. There was a couple worrying over a premature baby. You name it……we saw it! And for that brief time, nothing else mattered! It is the most amazing feeling I’ve had in a long time!

Some just sat and enjoyed the company, others talked and talked. Sometimes about what they had been through, others just about anything and everything! And it didn’t matter….they just needed someone to listen!

Fisher Houses are amazing places! They are as close to home as any of us could pray for in those situations! They will even loan out laptops, so families back home can keep updated!

If you are ever looking for something, a purpose, just a need to do something……..go spend an hour at a Fisher House. It doesn’t matter how little or much you have to offer. Give time! Some people volunteer and cook a meal once a month. Some bake cookies the 1st Thursday of a month. It is unlimited! Donate reward miles or points, send a card once a year……..believe me, you WILL make a HUGE difference to someone! No Fisher Houses near you….lucky for you the post office will deliver anywhere! Send a $5 Walmart card……it really doesn’t matter…..all that matters is someone cared!

So, in a nutshell………….Fisher Houses are magical homes away from home, where the greatest medicine on earth is nourished, rejuvenated, supported and grown!

 

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Mt. Home

slide10One day, after announcing one of the Patriotic Pony heroes, we received a phone call from a young lady who’s husband had served with the young man. Her family was being relocated, but she was interested in when and where this hero’s pony would go. They followed along on Facebook as many friends and family do.

Their relocation was no where near the Fisher House where their friend’s horse would go.  At one point, we realized they had gone right by us during their relocation from New York to Idaho.  Saddened by the missed opportunity to connect,  we would later discover our journey would again cross their path.  Traveling from Utah to Washington would take us directly through Mt. Home, Idaho.  Exactly where this young couple was now stationed! Amazing!

We are very honored and humbled to meet this wonderful family Jon & Jeanette Jackson and their 3 beautiful children! We spent a wonderful night learning more about the Patriotic Pony hero Peter Taub and others lost and injured on that fateful day. Several units sharing lunch moments before, would forever be tied by one tragic event. 

There were 5 others killed that day:   Adrianna Vorderbruggen, Joseph Lemm,  Louis Bonacasa, Michael Cinco, Chester McBride and several injured.

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The Patriotic Ponies are meant to keep the memories of our fallen alive. To have the opportunity to learn more about them and other fallen and injured heroes  means the world to us! We laughed and fought back tears as the antics and fond memories of some amazing men and women were shared! Thank you again!

Most of the profound moments on this trip were the unplanned side steps that just fell into place.  Strangers reached out to us to tell us more about their friend and unfurled an amazing chain of events.  These strangers became friends and they not only found time to help us connect with other friends of Peter Taub along the road, but were instrumental in getting us help on several other occasions!

It is such an honor to meet you!  Our own guardian angels! Thank you for your service and thank you for our freedoms! And especially, thank you for adopting two crazy old hippies!  Because of you we met so many amazing people!  You ROCK!

 

 

 

 

 

Tacoma, WA

slide5Our 1st Base Presentation – Joint Base Lewis-McChord honoring Air Force Captain David Lyons. Captain Lyons was with the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron. This gentle giant even had a ship named after him!

Manager Jodi Land, Sgt Sutton. Colonel Namini greeted and accepted the gift. We almost got to witness his first ride! Sweet little resident decided to wait until all the big people were out of th way! Precious! Hopefully the first of many, many more!

The base was a bit of a challenge, although just 15 miles away, we left 2 hours early and still we were late! Slight SNAFU at the gate….but, to us….it was a fun adventure!

Special thanks to those who stood in for the family! David’s wife Dana is active duty and not able to attend. It meant the world to us that you came! Thank you again!

 

Seattle, WA

Our 4th presentation…………..the Patriotic Pony honoring Marine LCpl Kenneth Cochran.slide19

Kenneth came into this world fighting all the way, with the umblical cord wrapped around his neck…………he learned early how precious every moment was! He knew he wanted to be a Marine and he worked to ensure it came true.

Greeted by the Fisher House Manager Stephanie Toeppe, the Acting Director Timothy McGuigan and Assistant Director Paula Raychaudhun, we were honored to present the Patriotic Pony to the Puget Sound VA Medical Center Fisher House.

It was such an honor to meet his mother Julia and her sister Allyson and hear her childhold stories of Ken. It is always so nice to get thoses one on one hugs!

We arrived the night before and couldn’t find a place to park for the night…..the VA Police were so nice and told us just to stay there! It was hard, because parking spots were precious and we were taking up ten. We would pop out with the need to explain. These vets were there for a reason! And here we were taking up so much space……most understood and even left with tears, handshakes and thanks.

We met two people from Ohio (Youngstown and Kent)…crazy huh! We even met a special young man, Paul who had some beautiful poems, so we asked him share them at the presentation. Thanks for helping make the presentation special Paul!

God bless our military and their families…..and all the Gold Star families! You are in our thoughts and prayers!

Salt Lake City Fisher House

Amazing day! Utah knows how to party!………………slide7

Our largest escort yet! The Utah Patrioti Guard Riders, 14 motorcycles helped the old hippies and the family of Jordan Byrd roll into the Fisher House in style!

Army Spc. Jordan Byrd, was a 19 year old medic who was killed after sprinting 300 yards through an onslaught of artilery to take care of a wounded comrade. He stabilized his patient and was killed using his body to protect him.

The Patriot Guard Riders not only stood behind us as we did the presentation, they lined the entrance with flags and saluted as the Patriotic Pony entered the building.

Fisher House Assistant Manager Nellie and her staff, Renee and Barb were there to greet us. Today was also Jordan’s son Ayden’s birthday! Everyone sang Happy Birthday to him! Truly awesome day!

slide19After the presentation, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch with residents, staff and family. By the time we left, several had changed into tie dye t-shirts! It was so cool! We even converted some bikers into hippies! hahaha

It was simply amazing! There were smiles everywhere! Hope we made you proud Jordan!

 

 

 

 

 

Army Spc. Jordan Byrd Family Patriotic Pony Painting Party

slide312nd Patriotic Pony Painting Party of the day………………..

Tomorrow is the presentation of Army Spc. Jordan Byrd’s Patriotic Pony rocker. It is also the 6th birthday of his son, Ayden! We meet Ayden and his mom Savannah, four years ago when we delivered the Monster Medic. We have been able to watch him grow thanks to the magic of Facebook………..but, there is nothing like seeing him in person! What a sweet heart! He looks so much like his daddy!

Jordan’s family sponsored a pony also, so we brought a rocker for them to decorate! We spent the afternoon, relaxing and painting hands and feet!

We even finally got a picture of ALL (well, almost ALL) of the finished rockers together! Thanks Doug and Jodi and the gang for helping us pull them ALL out, fix their hair, rearrange them a couple of times and then…………..put them ALL back away again!

…………….There was just something about seeing them ALL together, very humbling! Just a beautiful day!