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My Very Own Brave Soldier

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Veterans Day to me is celebrating, remembering and honoring our heroes that have ALL served in the Military. Honor ALL  Veterans of the US Armed forces, present, past and future. My very own brave solider, SGT Charles Bernard Kitowski, lost his life a year ago, August 12, 2007 while serving over in Afghanistan. My life has forever been changed and I'm so honored to have gained a new family, my Military Family. Charles was a hero to look up to and a man to be admired. He was kind, caring, thoughtful, he had happiness and joy in his heart. He was so good about the little things in life; helping with Habitat for Humanity, Volunteering for Meals on Wheels and enlisting for the Army. Charles made me happy, encouraged me daily, never let me down and to this day I couldn't be more proud of him . Ever since 911, Charles felt duty bound, and never looked back about this decision.

This year on Veterans Day was unlike any that I have ever experienced. I had the opportunity this past weekend to fly to St. Louis and be a part of the Veterans Day Parade, and to honor Charles Kitowski , Michael Fuga (Southwest Employees who lost their lives while serving our Country) and all the men and women who have served in the Military. I along with 30 other volunteers from Southwest helped decorate the float that tenVeterans from the Center for Citizen Leadership would be riding in. As we were walking over to the opening ceremonies for the Parade I couldn't help but notice all the hundreds of Military men and women in uniform, flags, people wearing red, white and blue and that made me proud. My heart now is in a different place than it has ever been, just being part of such an amazing experience and being able to Thank a Veteran for their ultimate sacrifice is so uplifting and rewarding. As we were walking in the Parade, I looked around just watching my fellow Southwest Employees and I couldn't have been more thankful and appreciative. I saw them running up to people passing out peanuts, giving hugs, thanking Veterans, waving and most of all enjoying their day and that made me proud to be a part of such an wonderful Company. This past weekend brought back many memories, and I've made new ones that I plan to make a tradition and be a part of for many years to come. My Southwest family gives me hope.

After the Parade we went to the Veterans day ceremony where Southwest partnered up with a group called Center for Citizen Leadership. Under this Leadership they have several programs that help the disabled and wounded veterans. One program which we are taking a part in is The Mission Continues (TMC); its mission is to place wounded and disabled veterans into volunteer positions in their communities. The goal is to provide service opportunities for wounded veterans who still have the desire to serve their country, but whose disabilities prevent them from continuing to serve in the military. They accomplish this goal by awarding fellowships for volunteer work to veterans who have suffered severe or traumatic injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan. In honor of our two Southwest Employees Charles Kitowski and Michael Fuga, Southwest is sponsoring two Fellowships next year in their name. I am very honored and proud to part of such an amazing event. I had the chance to meet and talk to several Veterans that have been awarded Fellowships. It's so moving listening to how they are serving our country being disabled. One Veteran is helping others through therapeutic horse therapy, another who is paralyzed is helping others learn how to snow ski and yet another one is counseling others. Each individual awarded a Fellowship has a story of how they are teaching/helping our community in more ways than one today after what they have been through. Serving our country wasn't enough for them, and they want to use their disability to do more. Being a part of the ceremony makes you really stop and think about what these men and women have been through and that they still have that desire to do more. Veterans give me hope and a new appreaction to life.

Today and everyday we should honor and thank our Veterans’ for all they have done for our country. Give a salute or even thank a war Veteran today. So this Veterans Day hits very close to home as I reflect on the past years I had with Charles. One thing I will always remember about Charles is his smile. It was worth a million words, contagious, and unforgettable. I am forever grateful to have had Charles in my life and the impact he has had in my life. I hope this past weekend and today on Veterans Day, Charles will be proud of me and everything I have accomplished with him and for him the past year. He was many things to many people, but to me he was my rock, my best friend, my future, and my heart. Charles gives me hope.

(Take a look at the video blog for a video of the event.)