The legend of the 300 Spartans is well known. What isn't well known is the 300 spouses and even more children that waited at home for word of their husbands and fathers.
It was because of the sacrifice of these Spartan infantrymen and their families, and now all U.S. Army infantrymen and their families, the National Infantry Association began recognizing the Infantry spouse in 1997 with a special award.
Veda Church received the Shield of Sparta- Heroine of Infantry for outstanding contributions to the community of Army Infantry from Col. James George, commander of the 196th Infantry Brigade, in a ceremony held on Fort Shafter Nov. 26.
"It is a distinct honor to recommend Mrs. Veda Church for the Shield of Sparta," George said. "Her 20 years of dedicated service and support to our Infantrymen and the accomplishment of our Infantry missions have been tremendous and continue now with her support of her son's Infantry Brigade as they deploy to Iraq in support of the Global War on Terror.
"This is a well deserved recognition for her service and sacrifice. She is a true patriot and supporter of the infantry."
The Shield of Sparta, established in 1997, recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the promotion of the Infantry, and in support of Infantrymen and their families, in ways that stand out in the eyes of the recipient's seniors, peers, and subordinates, according to the citation.
For over 20 years, Church, wife of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Church, deputy brigade commander with the 196th, has served in various capacities in all of her husband's units, including various roles in the family support group.
Her most significant contribution in support of the infantry was during her husband's assignment to the 1-26th Infantry Battalion. During the battalion's deployment to Iraq in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom II, the battalion was assigned to Samarra and had significant daily contact with enemy combatants. Due to the high level of contact, the 1-26th experienced a significant number of casualties, both wounded and killed in action.
Church attended all funeral services for the Soldiers killed within the brigade. She also saw to the needs of those widowed spouses and wounded Soldiers.
"She was a pillar of strength for these ladies and their children," George said. "Her services helping the wounded Soldiers of the battalion were no less spectacular. Taking them home cooked dinners every Sunday, which she personally prepared for these wounded Soldiers, her contributions to our Infantrymen and their families was immense."
"Families are always important to me," Veda said. "They have to be taken care of."
As if she hadn't given enough, Lt. Col. Church leaves soon for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan and one of her sons is deployed in Kuwait, providing convoy security for trips into Iraq, leaving Veda home one more time.
""My husband's been gone a lot," she said. "And my middle son is deployed in Kuwait which makes me nervous, but I have a feeling they'll both come home."
The legend of the 300 Spartans, their sacrifice, and the price paid by their spouses and families, exemplifies the special commitment for which the Shield of Sparta- Heroine of the Infantry is presented, and Veda Church has continued to embody that spirit for over 20 years.
"This award isn't just about me," she said. "It wasn't just me who did all these things for all these infantrymen. I had a lot of help and I share this award with all those who gave me help along the way."