Air Force SSG Peter Taub

Our second delivery on the East Coast Tour was to the family of Air Force Staff Sergeant Peter Taub. Peter had previously been nominated for our Patriotic Pony program when we realized he left behind two beautiful little girls so, we naturally added him to the list for tribute rockers.  Peter was one of six killed and several injured by a suicide motorcycle rider in Afghanistan on 12/21/15.   We were in awe of all the lives Peter had touched, because no matter where we traveled across the country, friends and co-workers sought us out to tell us wonderful stories of Peter’s life.Slide1

 

 

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To date all  the memorial rockers we had done were vehicles; police cars, fire trucks, humvee and helicopters with the exception of one boxer.

Peter’s wife Christina asked for rockers that reflected Peter’s favorite things.  His favorite animal – polar bears,  favorite hobbies – reading, fishing, hunting, and his favorite candy – gummy bears.

 

Designing the polar bear rockers was the easy part, figuring out how to incorporate the rest was the challenge.  We settled on the idea of giving each of the polar bears a scarf  adorned with his hobbies, which we did with stickers and dangle earrings.  The scarves were done in the girls favorite colors pink and purple and then each polar bear had a gummy bear tattoo on their hips in the opposite color of the scarves.   So these tribute rockers were made of Pete’s favorite things for his favorite girls!Slide35 Slide36

While mom knew about the rockers, they were going to be a complete surprise for the girls! We arranged to arrive just after the girls returned home from school with an escort from the Patriot Guard Riders.  We all met at the local mall and the parade of cars, trucks and motorcycles slowly made our way to their home.  It was difficult to fight back the tears when we watched the line of vehicles so eagerly ready to pay tribute to a fallen hero and escort us in the  delivery of  our precious cargo.  We were so thankful for such a big beautiful turnout of appreciation for our fallen, while those who choose to participate in this event reciprocated with thanks to be a part of an event that gave them the opportunity to share smiles and hugs along with tears.  We later learned most had also been a part of bringing Peter home.

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As we hope these special gifts let the family know how many people care, it is impossible not to feel the love when so many come together to make sure the delivery is so very special!  Thank you so very much to all who helped, donated and/or participated! You ROCK!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st Delivery - Pittsburgh Fisher House

Slide1Our second year of Patriotic Pony deliveries started off with a first. This was the first time that a delivery was within hours from home, making it possible for a couple of local veterans to attend the presentation with us.

We left out on our journey on the day we were going to make our first delivery.  Preparations for these journeys are quite extensive, adding preparations for a delivery on top of it added stress which was quickly washed away when we reached the Pennsylvania state border.  Waiting at the first exit was the Patriot Guard Riders, who escorted us the entire way;  to the Pittsburgh Fisher House! There is a simple peace and pride following behind a parade of motorcycles proudly flying the American flag.

Army Spc. Alan Dikcis was the hero being honored on the Patriotic Pony we were presenting the Pittsburgh Fisher House.  From a blended family of 6 boys, Alan was not the only one to serve his country.  Three brothers served.

 

Unfortunately, his family was unable to attend, but we had the pleasure of  meeting  some  of them on previous journeys.  Hero’s Rock created the Treasured Chest when we read a letter from his mother of how hard the loss of Alan was on his youngest brother Robert! His family shared so many wonderful stories of Alan, but one of our favorites was his love of working on the Super Bee with his dad! As with all of our presentations, we read Alan’s page from the Patriotic Pony book of heroes which is the celebration of life stories. Stories that show the love these men and women brought into this world.  Fond memories, childhood mishaps, pranks and pure joy. As with each presentation, at the end we sign the bottom of the rocker with a promise to never forget the fallen!  The Patriot Guard riders stood in for the family and signed the bottom of Alan’s rocker.

 

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The Preparations

Slide1With all the knowledge we gained from the first Patriotic Pony journey, preparations are a bit smoother!  Still, hours and hours of phone calls, arranging the delivery schedule with each individual site, updating the book, or making this years rockers….there is still a lot of work.

We became quite close to some of our contacts! Hard not to when you are working with such caring people! I wish we could have a photo of our contact’s faces when we first call!  I’m pretty sure they think they are talking with a mad woman…….and with time, they come to learn they are 100% correct! hahaha

Our wonderful Gold Star mom Nancy Krestan did an amazing job adding all the new pages to the Patriotic Pony book! And the old bus and trailer received an amazing make over! They both look so cool!

Whether you helped decorate a pony, helped with the mane and tail parties, helped in the woodshop,  donated, shared our posts or sent words of encouragement and support! It is ALL of you who make this magic happen!  We couldn’t do it without you!!!

Thank you all for helping to get this second journey on the road!!!

 

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Starbucks Patriotic Pony Painting Party

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Thanks to the wonderful people of Streetsboro Starbucks, the Old Hippies of Hero’s Rock held a Patriotic Pony Painting Party!  From suits and ties to shorts and flip flops, they came for coffee and were caught RED handed (or blue) showing support for our military and their families!

Another day of wonderful people coming together for a great cause! Thanks to everyone who gave a helping hand!!! You Rock!

 

 

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!