By Allie Townsend
The Journal Gazette
Children waved miniature American Flags. Families held signs that read “Support Our Troops.” A group of soldiers stood in uniform, backs straight.
Even the heavy rain couldn’t stop the light mood that radiated from the crowd standing in Georgetown Square on Saturday morning. It was time for the fourth annual Amateur Radio Military Appreciation Day.
Organized to offer a live radio broadcast of support for those serving in the military, the event aspired to bring the troops into the Fort Wayne community, even if it was just via the airwaves.
The crowd was packed with mothers and fathers missing sons and daughters, and vice versa.
As a letter from Mayor Graham Richard declaring May 26, 2007, Amateur Radio Military Appreciation Day was read aloud, Nanci Strahm made her way through the crowd passing out red raffle tickets.
The Fort Wayne mother attended the event in honor of her son, Nick Strahm, 22, a Marine serving in Iraq for the second time in three years.
Thanks to a satellite phone, Strahm is able to speak to her son almost every day. Their conversations shift between homesickness, Nick’s 2-year-old twins and his job of leading a squad of 20 Iraqi police officers.
“It’s very sad to hear some of what he tells me about them,” Strahm said of the Iraqi officers. “They have nothing. Most have only one T-shirt and pair of socks and no hygiene.”
Strahm wanted to help. With the help of friends, she was able to ship her son packages full of personal items for the Iraqi police and other soldiers.
As she described the boxed items, a voice yelled, “Nanci,” in the background. Her son was speaking to the crowd via a phone call. She rushed close to the microphone.
Nick Strahm went on to thank everyone for their support and for the packages sent to help his men.
His mother beamed. The care packages were a success, and they arrived in only 12 days.
Strahm had handed shipping responsibilities over to the only man she knew for the job, Emery McClendon.
McClendon knows the process of sending and receiving packages all too well. He delivers for FedEx.
But McClendon also knows the joy a package can bring. He had to wait for them while serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
“Back then you got to talk to your family maybe once or twice a month if you were lucky,” he said. “Phones that would reach overseas were barely accessible and long distance was so expensive. We loved to hear from home. That’s why we’re here.”
Remembering his own waiting periods, he’s switched from waiting to sending.
He is the founder and organizer of the annual event. Enlisting groups of amateur radio volunteers, McClendon is responsible for an airwave event that is broadcast to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as around the country to other veterans and military bases.
Why? He said it is because troops deserve to hear support firsthand.
Aside from helping with care-package shipments and the live portion of the event, the event also broadcasts messages of support from local residents.
Each year, a station is set up at a Fort Wayne Wizards baseball game where anyone can come and give a verbal message to the troops.
Army Pfc. Derek Dahlman, who attended Saturday’s event, finished his second deployment in the Mideast in June 2005.
And he knows there is a good chance he’ll go back. He also just re-enlisted.
“Today means a lot to me,” the 26-year-old from Avilla said. “People have come up and have said thank you, but I’ve never been to an event like this. It feels good, especially when you are surrounded by the negativity of politics.
“America is a free country, and everyone has a right to voice their opinion. But this, this is nice to hear.”
This is my friend, Emery McClendon. He coordinates these events for citizens at home to be able to talk to and thank our Soldiers overseas. We are currently working together to help Nick Strahm get the supplies he needs for success in his mission. If you are interested in helping, please email me.