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Hangin’ with the Heroes

Hangin’ with the Heroes gives a Ferndale-style sendoff to deploying Navy officersmodern tax

(Crystal A. Proxmire, 3/22/2011)

The Ferndale Elks Club was packed on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 as community members gathered to recognize and send off members of the US Navy Tactical Support Center 0374 as they prepare to ship off for Afghanistan.

Among those being deployed is 48 year old Todd Caswell, who has been traveling the world with the Navy since joining a month and half after graduating from Ferndale High School back in 1981.  When asked where he has traveled to, Caswell laughed and said “It’s a lot easier for me to tell you the places I have never been than to try and list the ones I have seen.”  He explained that his Naval career has taken him to all the coastal countries of Africa, Australia, every country in South America except for Argentina, all over Europe, and Asia with the exception of mainland China.

The 48 year old OS1 (Petty Officer First Class) has been home with his wife Penny and their three children (plus a daughter from a previous relationship) since July 21.  He made it home from Iraq the day before his mother’s birthday.  In Iraq he did two tours, one was for combat and another was for training Iraqi Marines and Army.  A table full of family members enjoyed a going away meal and chatted about how fun it is talking to people online that Caswell meets from different countries.  “I’ve got friends from all over the world,” he said.  “I’ve been all over.  The world ain’t that big.”

Caswell and other officers of the 0374th were invited to a “Hangin’ with the Heroes” sendoff put on by a group dedicated to making those who serve in the armed forces feel appreciated by the community.

Ron Gilmour started Hangin’ with the Heroes a little over two years ago when he found out that two Marines he knew were being deployed to Iraq.  “I was tired of hearing athletes and performers being referred to falsely as being ‘heroes’,” he said.  “I talked to a couple of fellow Elks, and we decided to teach others the TRUE meaning of the word and at the same time, honor the brave men & women serving our country. Look up the word “hero” in the dictionary. That will tell you all you really need to know.”

This send-off was particularly memorable for Gilmour because of he had seen Caswell grow up. “I am very proud to have known Todd for going on 38 yrs. This is Todd’s 8th deployment, 4th in the Iraqi War.”

Another Naval Officer welcomed by the crowd was a 51 year old woman from River Rouge named Donna Clay.  Clay’s mother had served in the Army during World War II as part of the Women’s Air Corp.  Though she had always wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps, it took Clay until she was 30 to make the decision to enlist in the Navy.  When the 3074th leaves on April 10, it will be Clay’s second deployment.  She recently returned after a tour in Kuait where she worked in customs.  “It was my job to inspect the troops before coming into the States,” she said.  “Check the troops for ammunition or other items they weren’t supposed to have.  Like Cuban Cigars, those we’re not supposed to bring back.”

This time Clay will be gone for seven months, six of which will be spent “boots on ground” in Kuait, replacing a fleet of officers who will be taking a new aircraft into action.

When asked if she was ever scared about going to a new place, Clay said, “No, they train that out of you really quick.  No. It’s really not like that.  You know that no matter where you go they’ll have everything that you need.  They set up the shelter.  And you know they’re going to feed you regularly.  And you have all your routines.  There’s people around.  It’s not scary at all.”

Clay said that the Navy makes it really easy to communicate with her family while she is overseas.  “The only thing that makes it hard is the time difference.  It’s already late in the day for me when my husband is just getting up.”

For Casswell, Clay and the other deploying officers, the Hanging with the Heroes event gave them a chance to enjoy a meal along with family and friends old and new.  The Ferndale Seniors made a special trip out, filling up two of the tables. The group has committed to collecting items throughout the year to send to the troops at Christmas. Girl Scout Troup 41567 from Ferndale presented the Heroes with boxes of Girl Scout Cookies.  And speakers from the community shared their well-wises.  The event was hosted by Ferndale Elks Lodge #1588, and the entire Hangin’ with the Heroes program is supported by private donations.  Any donations can be made out to Ferndale Elks with “Hangin’ With the Heroes” on the Memo line. All are tax deductible donations. Send to 22856 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, MI 48220.

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