"Help is on the way, Dad."
Those are the last words that Robert Jahn, an international food distributor from upstate New York, heard from his son Trevor just before Trevor's untimely death.
Just a few hours after that call, while on his way home for the start of 2005 Thanksgiving break, Trevor was killed in a car accident. He was only miles from his home.
The Ithaca College senior was an Army ROTC Cadet and an economics major who was scheduled to graduate and commission as a second lieutenant in a matter of months.Robert was recently in Washington D.C attending the 30th Army Ten Miler with a team of Cadets and cadre from Ithaca College and Cornell University that he sponsors every year in Trevor's name. Ithaca ROTC falls under the Cornell ROTC program.
He said he started the sponsorship because the Ten Miler was something Trevor loved, and Robert wanted to share that love with other Cadets.
"Trevor was a cross-country runner at Warwick High School and was really good," Robert explained. "So when he was a freshman at Ithaca he wanted to do this race. The cadre had never been involved in it and didn't know how to start him out. I ran marathons at the time and so I told him if he wanted to go I would take him and we ran together. We had such a great time."After the Jahn family had grieved over Trevor's death, Robert found himself looking for a way to honor his son, and to share the things his son found important in ROTC with up-and-coming Cadets.
"Trevor loved ROTC and had lots of plans and ideas for his future in the military," he explained. "I decided it would be a good idea to sponsor some (cadets) and take them to the race because that would involve the kids from the battalion who might not otherwise have a way to participate in this event, and would be something to do in his memory because Trevor loved running."
So he talked to the cadre at Cornell, and they come up with a plan. Robert has sponsored each trip since 2006, to include printing the t-shirts and a dinner at the Sea Catch restaurant in Georgetown. The Cadets plan all the logistics and design the tee-shirt. The only thing that Robert asks they leave on the shirt each year is, "Help is on the Way."
He explained his request by saying that the night Trevor died he was at a concert before coming home for the holiday, and they were discussing family events."I am a Dead-Head and my favorite song is 'Help Is on the Way,'" he said. "The cover band at this concert was playing that song when he called to talk to me and then he said, 'help is on the way dad,' and he held the phone up so I could hear the song."Jahn added that taking the team to dinner is important because he thinks that at the beginning of someone's military career they need to know first-hand that people really support them, admire them, and respect them for their choices and honor their commitment.
Cadet Nathan Lundquist, a junior agricultural science major at Cornell, said as Cadets he and his friends see in Jahn a lot of what they read in class as "Army Values." He added that through this trip they experience selfless service first hand.
"He funds this trip for us and gives us the opportunity we otherwise wouldn't have if not for his generous donation," Lunddquist explained. "But it also shows us honor and integrity in the memory of his son.
"No matter what happens in life there can be a positive outcome. There will be terrible things to happen but if you can turn it, and use it for the good of your troops or your family and friends then it speaks to the memory and honor of those who have come before us."But the elder Jahn's support of ROTC doesn't stop there.
After Trevor's death Robert started a scholarship at Ithaca for economics and one for ROTC, both in Trevor's name. He said he felt the coming budget cuts would hurt a young person's chance to get through school and this way when a parent loses his or her job, or something happens, there is a little bit of money available to help."I am committed to young people today who remind me of 'Trev.' They are all good kids and they are smart and dedicated and I thought maybe I could do something in his name for other kids,' he added.But he didn't stop there. As an international businessman Roberts knows the benefit of maintaining personal connections and some of those are within the military--a lesson he also wants to pass to the next generation.He said that as young people graduate with degrees in political science, international business and education--as examples--they need to understand what the military really does for them.
"The military isn't just about fighting wars--they are the ones building schools, water-treatment plants, rebuilding cities and bridges, performing humanitarian missions," Robert explained. "These are people who will certainly protect them, but are also people who are performing duties in which they will be working alongside."
So to help educate the public, he formed the Jahn Family Civic Leadership Fund which helps host a leadership lecture series in conjunction with Ithaca College and its school of business. Robert said the topics are all things civilians can learn from the people who work those jobs every day."The purpose of the speakers' series is to open the eyes and minds of kids who go through college with blinders on so that yes, they can learn leadership perspective," Robert explained. "Here is an opportunity to get people with military experience to give a talk about what they really do, and the seminars are open to everyone."
If reaching students with an educational opportunity and encouragement is important, then the cadre at Cornell and Ithaca are happy to have the support.Maj. Lisa Gasque, a member of the cadre at Cornell University, said it is necessary for parents like Jahn to be involved in the ROTC program.
"It's important to have Mr. Jahn as an active parent in ROTC because he brings in a civilian dimension to the program and helps other civilians understand what we do and why we do it," she explained. "And it shows our Cadets that we are in fact a family. Trevor was in the ROTC program, and his father is still a part of the program. The Cadets see this dedication to service through his father. I think it is a great thing he does for us."Robert has some other ideas for future engagements and a fundraising plan to keep the scholarships going well into the future. Currently, more than $20,000 comes out of his pocket each year--but it's all to help the students and Cadets at Ithaca and Cornell.
"I get stoked for this trip each year. I enjoy time with the kids and I love to hear about their majors and listen to their stories," he explained. "They are all good kids and they deserve to know someone outside of their family thinks so."And for his part, Jahn intends to keep to the words of his favorite song, "Help is on the Way."