Let me open by giving a host of Sierra Hotels to the Kentuckiana Pack for the great 50th reunion of the River Rats. You guys did a bang up job and I am sure that all the attendees feel the same way. Thanks for the superb job. Having Scrappy Johnson there was a special treat and especially so when he gave his own shout out, “It’s Saturday night. Let’s get drunk and be somebody.” Good on you, Scrappy. I am looking forward to your doing the same next year in Sacramento. We were also honored by the attendance of two former US Air Force Chiefs of Staff, Generals Mike Dugan and Ron Fogleman. For the information of all, both of these gentlemen are former Chairmen of the Air Warrior Courage Foundation (AWCF). But, I suppose, General Fogleman made the a most observant comment during his address to the banquet attendees. He noted that this was the 50th anniversary of the River Rats and that some of the attending Rats were among those that began the organization. He added that because of the life longevity, not age, of those, the line for the men’s room was longer than the one for the bar. You are very observant, Ron.
It was also a night of honors for some members of the AWCF. One Board member, Bill “Shortfinger” Schwertfeger, was selected as the River Rat of the Year for 2017. This was for his work as a major builder of the River Rats in the Heartland, particularly Vance AFB, and his important messages to the young AFROTC cadets who will become the backbone of the future Air Force. The AWCF Humanitarian of the Year Award went to Chuck DeBellevue, another Heartlander, who is not on the AWCF Board but has been crucial to the support of Wounded Warriors and military families in the Heartland. He was the one that opened the door to the AWCF helping the Moore, OK, tornado victims in 2013. Because of his knee injuries, Chuck was unable to attend the ceremony in Louisville. We had Mimi Drew present the award to Chuck’s clone, Mike “Loadhacker” Sloniker. Mike in turn presented the award to Chuck at Vance AFB on 25 May 2017. The picture below shows that presentation.
The Archie and Sue Lorentzen Education Endowment is one of our flourishing programs. We now have programs at the following schools, University of Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, University of Kansas, Kansas State, University of Colorado, St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh. During the last year, we provided 43 grants to ROTC cadets and Vance Airmen. The picture shows Bill Schwertfeger and Mike Sloniker presenting Lorentzen grants for the second year to Vance Airmen. To qualify for the grant, they had to write an essay concerning why they needed the grant for continuing laptop education. Laptop education at Vance is heavily used by the enlisted on the base. They receive tuition assistance from the Air Force, however, the amount does not cover the full cost. All received $250 except the female E-7 nearest Bill. She received $500 because she is working towards a Master of Business Administration where the costs are higher. All expressed gratitude for the grant. The young E-6 next to Sloniker has 18 years service and is on her way to earning a nursing degree. The Lorentzen grants are making a difference in their lives.
The selection of the recipients of the ROTC grants is made based on need and class standing. The leader of the ROTC detachment and his/her staff make the selections based on those criteria. They are then presented to the AWCF Board member or River Rat working with the unit. The decision is then made jointly. This is a program that can be widened by RRVA members who are able to work with various universities throughout the country. Since the reunion, have people looking into working with the University Louisville and Embry-Riddle University.
The program to provide the Lorentzen grants also opens the door to more eligible candidates for River Rat scholarships. The AWCF plans to work closely with the River Rat scholarship chairman, Ken “Kato” Posey to get more applicants for the scholarship program. The AWCF is also committed to helping the RRVA keep the scholarship funding level at $70K per year.
The AWCF is again working with Steve Connolly to help sponsor another Operation Canyon Rising. Steve is hoping to have a party of 15 again. These will be mainly disabled veterans. He is working with the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio to find candidates. He would also like to include a vet suffering from PTSD. There was one on the last hike and it was life changing for her to participate in this. He would also like to include a gold star widow. The rest would include himself, a physical therapist and a mental therapist/PTSD counselor. Steve is looking to accomplish the hike in September 2018. He hopes to “Rise Up” out of the canyon on Sept 11th again, like last year, since that date is so important to many of the participants who joined the military because of the attacks on our country.
I want to also thank the reunion attendees who gave great donations to the AWCF during the banquest. Thanks to the Tyndall River Rats for $5K, Swede Seagren for $1K, Gus Gustafson for $1K, Stan Goldstein for passing the pot around that garnered $516 for the RRVA and AWCF each. I don’t have the number on John Piowaty’s memerobilia auction but hope to have it soon.
I am looking forward to the next reunion in Sacramento and hope to see all of you there. Until the next SWEEP, stay well.