By Marsha M. Brown
We all have heroes in our lives…sometimes they’re a parent; a brother or sister; a husband or wife; a grandparent or teacher and those we barely know who wore or wear the uniform of our United States military…well…they’re (you’re) all heroes.
Though GIG LINE is typically l-o-n-g there is never ever enough room to express my gratitude to those who have served or who currently serve our country today. Often times I write about my sweetie pie Billy…because he’s the hero I know best and that I love most. But each of you (veterans) rank at the top of my ‘favorite’ list and recently I came to know another hero whom I’d like to tell you about.
We met not long ago at a Dare County Veterans Advisory Council meeting. My first impression of her was that she was a professional and maybe a newspaper reporter? Or a salesperson? Or even a private business owner? I wasn’t sure! But shortly after Chairman Lewis asked everyone to introduce themselves I came to realize that she, Kelli Harmon, was a 6.5 year veteran of the U. S. Army having served in Afghanistan. This new veteran friend we met that day had received the NATO Afghanistan Service Medal; the Bronze Star; three Army Commendation Medals; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars and the Korean Defense Service Medal awarded for her distinguished service. We also came to know that she was intricately involved in the rehabilitation efforts following the September 5, 2009 attack at Fort Hood.
This young woman was all about serving her veteran family and our United States of America well after her Honorable Discharge in 2012. She expressed gratitude for the work the Veterans Advisory Council had done on behalf of veterans and she offered to help us in any way possible to achieve our goals. Seemingly quiet at first, the atmosphere that day changed quickly once she got started…and it was great! Verbal exchanges began and full speed ahead…Kelly Harmon had arrived! And no matter what you were doing at the time…whether looking over the meeting Agenda…or making notes of things you wanted to discuss…you stopped and you listened to what she had to say…her introduction had earned and deserved our attention. It was clear…she was no joke! The intentions of this veteran were sincere, optimistic and determined! We embraced this veteran whose primary goal was to save lives…not only through combat in Afghanistan but from suicide both during and after her military service.
Since that initial meeting my nickname for Kelli has been “Fireball”. That’s because I’ve witnessed her spark and energy countless times both as a member of the American Legion Post 26 and the Outer Banks V.F.W. Post 10950. And you know what? She doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’ about helping veterans, she ‘walks the walk’. She attends countless meetings to initiate/help organize events, fund raisers and promotions of veterans from one end of the Outer Banks to the other; she encourages public awareness of our veterans and especially those in need are at the top of her list…and in addition to her full time job as a Financial Advisor with Edward Jones Investments, she’s non stop working tirelessly for the good of others. If she’s not giving a presentation, she’s contacting, calling and networking people who have a heart for veterans.
In Kelli’s own words, “September the 11th changed not only our Country, it changed me. Watching as innocent people were attacked on American soil made me want to protect not just our Country but the people who live here.” She goes on to express her gratitude for a nation who provided her single Mother and family the necessities of life during a difficult time that made her “…want to return the security it (Country) had given me.” During her tenure in the Army, Kelli toured in Afghanistan and South Korea. Her active involvement in the American Legion & V.F.W. in addition to AMVETS and Soldiers’ Angels gives Kelli the chance to put her time and energy into something real and beneficial to others – which is her primary goal. Very recently Kelli was voted into a position to serve as Veteran Representative for the Dare County Arts Council which she’s excited about. As she put it, “I’m passionate about veteran causes because over 22 Veterans commit suicide a day, that’s almost one life lost an hour. In a time when the military is drawing down to pre-World War II numbers, creating thousands of unemployed Veterans in a struggling economy with constant cuts to the VA system, we have to remember that the war is drawing down, but the effects are not.”
Having been a key player in the organization and execution of the recent and first V.F.W. 9/11 Ceremonial Service in Nags Head, Kelli commented, “Witnessing the way our community came together to support the 9/11 event was truly phenomenal. It’s a perfect reminder of why America and the American way of life is worth dying for. This day that was meant to tear us apart and bring us to our knees, it has only served to bring us together. There is strength in unity.” But don’t think for a minute that Kelli will take credit for anything related to the event without making sure you know the 9/11 Committee pulled it off working together toward the successful outcome. She’s sings high praises to fellow veterans Jim Norrell; Brian Kelly, Tammy Hamilton, Bo Simpson and Richard Probst who are members of the V.F.W. and American Legion as well. Her pride was in them and the working relationship between the two veteran organizations overall. No question about it…our hats are off to each of them for all of their help too!
Even though she was the driving force (honestly) behind that very special event, Kelli wastes no time giving praise and recognition to the others who contributed their time, supplies and much needed equipment. That’s just the way she is…elevating others…edifying those who helped to bring remembrance of a day in 2001 that changed our country forever. Because of her and the hard work of others who pitched in also the majority of the nearly 400 people in attendance that day want to see it as an annual event. Kudos to Kelli! She exudes ‘vim and vigor’ with eyes wide open, eager to speak her mind…Kelli quickly and respectfully conveys her point of view. She’s a woman determined to meet a challenge and even if it’s a difficult one…find a solution one way or another to overcome it. Her communications are clear, concise and she takes pride in having tirelessly served our nation as well as our communities; she’s a fighter and a survivor. She’s a hero and an example of not letting up on the fight to honor our veterans…not to forget their sacrifice…not to forget many who still suffer silently as a result of what they went through…she’s a cheerleader in camo and when she comes on board to tackle a project…clear the deck and bar the door Katie!
Her love for and interest in fellow soldiers everywhere is abundantly clear; she’s a ‘worker bee’ and the words ‘idle’ or ‘passive’ or ‘lazy’ just doesn’t equate. She’s determined not only to meet but exceed every task she takes on and her straight forward approach is refreshing and impressive. At Council meetings and the one fundraising event I attended with her, I was impressed that she jumped in greeting attendees, moving tables/chairs, cleaning up and vacuuming the floor afterward…nothing was beneath her even dressed ‘to beat the band’, Kelli exemplified an ‘in it to win it’ mind set.
All veterans inspire me. All veterans make me proud, no matter the branch of service, the time they served, if they (you) were combat or their work was strictly administrative and behind a desk…it took all of you to keep us safe, watch our back and the backs of your brothers and sisters. I love you all and my sweetie pie Billy and I both love Kelli. She has been a blessing to us both and I can tell you that she will make great strides toward helping our Dare County veterans without a doubt! If I was a veteran, I’d trust Kelli Harmon on any battlefield or in any foxhole…she’s a committed, capable and dedicated soldier. Kelli’s Mom has to be so proud! And if you get a chance to meet her please take the time to shake her hand and tell her how much you appreciate her hard work and devotion to our veterans. Likely…you’ll hear a response like…”I just helped” as if it was no big deal at all. Give it up for Kelli Harmon! Once you meet her, you won’t forget her.
Remember we love you all and please call us if you need us and if you want to obtain your Dare County Veteran I. D. Card. We’ll make every effort possible to meet you at your convenience. My cell (252) 202-2058 or write to me at [email protected] In the meantime, be happy, be safe and be proud. God bless you all and stay tuned folks…