This is a guest blog co-written by Lieutenant Colonel Steven Harrold, Founder of The Knights of Heroes Camp, and Camper Andrew Maholic, who lost his father in Afghanistan while serving our nation. Southwest has supported The Knights of Heroes Camp by donating tickets since 2008, and we are humbled by the courage and perseverance demonstrated by the children who participate in The Knights of Heroes Camp. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Harrold, USA Air Force, founded KOH in 2006.
On November 27, 2006, Major Troy "Trojan" Gilbert was killed in Iraq when his F-16 crashed while protecting ground troops being overrun by the enemy. During his memorial service a picture of Troy and his two boys on a hike drew my attention. I kept asking myself, "What now? Who is going to take his children camping and fishing?" Knowing these kids needed strong mentors and a place to share their experiences, the concept of the Knights of Heroes (KOH) Camp was born.
Through the grace of God, we held the very first KOH Camp the next summer, and each summer since 2007, children of our fallen heroes and adult mentors from around the world come together and spend a week in the mountains of Colorado. Over the next five years, we had the honor of watching campers like Andrew Maholic grow from youths into fine, strong young men and women. At 17 years old, Andrew plans to attend his sixth year of camp this summer, and he has moved into a leadership role as a part of the KOH Camp staff. Each year, Andrew’s enthusiasm grows, and he finds new challenges that capture his attention. The transformation that takes place when Andrew finds his passion is nothing short of remarkable.”
KOH Camper, Andrew Maholic lost his father in Afghanistan when he was just ten years old. Andrew received the Silver Star in recognition of his father’s heroism and service to our nation and was filmed as the subject of a 60 Minutes special “Ambush in Afghanistan” during his first experience at a KOH.
My Dad, Master Sergeant Thomas Maholic, was killed in Ghecko, Afghanistan, on June 24, 2006. He was a Green Beret, who is credited with saving the lives of his nine-man team following a two-day firefight with hundreds of Taliban fighters. Just two years after my Father’s death, I attended my first KOH summer camp when I was 12 years old.
Throughout that first summer, I developed a passion for rock climbing. When I was faced with a large boulder or problem, I would think of my Dad. I knew he would be proud if I tried something new, and I decided to give it a shot. I got my harness and other necessary gear on, and with my mentor encouraging me, up I went and, in doing so, I changed from Andrew to Spiderman in a matter of two minutes! I knew Dad would be proud! These highlights of my time at KOH kept me going. One day, with the help of my mentors, who helped me focus my energy, I hiked up Pikes Peak! These awesome moments and activities aren’t the best thing about KOH Camp; it is being around other Campers who have also lost parents and can relate to me. And it is the adult mentors who listen and will do everything they can to help. That is why I love The Knights of Heroes Camp … Rise UP!”
For the past six years, Southwest Airlines has provided transportation for Campers such as Andrew to attend KOH in Colorado. In 2013, Southwest provided transportation so that 85 Campers were able to attend. November is Military Heroes Month at Southwest! Share your photos using #Sacrifice and #MilitaryHeroes.