By Kevin M. HymelSeptember 10, 2008
ORLANDO, FLa. (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2008) - "I'm proud to have met Keela Carr," President George W. Bush told an audience before turning to her Aug. 20 and saying: "And I want to thank you for doing what you do." He then presented her with the President's Volunteer Service Award.
The award, given on behalf of the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation, honors those Americans who have made serving - helping their neighbors and helping their nation - a central part of their lives. Carr earned the prestigious White House award by paying tribute to America's troops in a special way: she walked across the United States thanking Soldiers and Veterans for serving the country in a "Journey of a Thousand Thanks."
"I was very flattered that my country and my president would recognize what I've done," said Carr about the award, but she keept her accomplishment in perspective: "Its nothing compared to what Soldiers are doing right now."
Carr began her journey in Barstow, Calif., on Memorial Day, May 30. She then trekked 2,700 miles across the heartland of America to reach her destination of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Along the way, she shook hands with over a thousand servicemembers and delivered a quilt knitted by World War II Veterans' wives to a wounded Soldier at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland. The next day, Aug. 8, she walked to Arlington National Cemetery escorted by members of the U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute program, where she laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Her entire journey took 71 days.
Carr, an athlete and fitness trainer, quit her job, sold her belongings and put her life on hold for this unique tribute. It started when she visited Walter Reed a year ago and met several wounded Soldiers.
"It set me on fire," she says. "It was my single most life-changing moment."
She decided to do something to give back to those who gave so much and, with the help of friends and family, began her journey. Once commenced, she was surprised by the response she got from America's active and retired warriors. "When I said 'thank you,' they said 'No-thank you.'"
Carr scoffs at praise for her accomplishment.
"It's nothing in comparison to putting that uniform on and taking an oath and - come hell or high water - to follow through," adding, "I don't deserve any thanks, it's not for me. It's not about me."
Carr's escorts to the National Cemetery reflect her role as Freedom Team Salute's 500th volunteer Ambassador-one of over 550 active Ambassadors who support the program by taking a proactive effort in thanking Army Veterans and assisting Soldiers in thanking those who support them. Ambassadors host Freedom Team Salute events nation-wide and in eight countries overseas.
Upon completion of her journey, the Army officially thanked Carr by awarding her a Freedom Team Salute "Army Supporter" commendation. Initiated in July of this year, the Army Supporter commendation allows the Army to honor individuals like Carr who have significantly contributed to Soldiers and the Army Mission.
Examples of those eligible for an Army Supporter commendation include veteran's spouses, deployed Department of the Army Civilians, Soldiers' children and American citizens everywhere who volunteer their time for warriors past and present. The new commendation is available to anyone who supports the U.S. Army, even if they have received an FTS commendation under a different award category in the past.
"It's the right decision for the Army to show its appreciation to more members of the Army Family," said Col. David Griffith, director of the FTS program. "For example, we've been honoring the spouses of Soldiers since the program began in 2005, and now we can honor the spouses of veterans who have made the same sacrifice in the past."
To find out more about Freedom Team Salute and to honor an Army Supporter in your community, visit www.FreedomTeamSalute.com.
(Kevin Hymel serves with the Freedom Team Salute staff.)