Wreaths Across America – A Gazala Tradition

by Lieutenant (SG) David Miller, HMLAC Gazala

Max Miller as a CAP cadet with (then) US Rep. Russ Carnahan in 2011. (Photo Credit: David A. Miller)

Long before the HMLAC Gazala formed, and continuing to this day, the Miller family has supported an outstanding continuing charity event  – Wreaths Across America.

Wreaths Across America is an annual national program that seeks to place remembrance evergreen wreaths at veterans’ cemeteries and memorials during the holidays to honor those who served the U.S. as well as current military members.  Started by the Worcester Wreath Company in 1992 with surplus holiday wreaths placed at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC, the event has grown since then and now includes events in all fifty states with the main event still occurring at Arlington.  The mission of WAA is to remember the fallen, honor those that serve and their families, and teach the next generation about the value of freedom.  WAA is also a charity event raising funds for non-profit organizations through the sale of remembrance wreaths to the public.  Last year, approximately 1.7 million wreaths were placed by tens of thousands of volunteers at more than 2,500 participating locations around the country simultaneously on Wreaths Across America Day (typically the second or third Saturday each December).

Location coordinator David A. Miller as guest speaker for the WAA ceremony in 2014. (Photo credit: Nikki Miller)

2020 marked the fifteenth consecutive year that the Millers made sure WAA at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, was part of their holiday tradition.  But they’ve done more than just participate and place wreaths on veterans’ gravesites – David and Nikki Miller actually ran the entire program at Jefferson Barracks for over a decade. 

Serving as the overall location coordinator from 2006 until 2017, David coordinating the efforts of thousands of volunteers in the placement of more than 70,000 wreaths, helped multiple groups raise tens of thousands of dollars in charity support, coordinated flyover events (including a B-2 bomber), personally placed over 500 grave-specific wreath requests, served as the annual guest speaker, and coordinated media coverage of the event with the distribution of over 500 media releases and articles, as well as a number of radio and television interviews, during this timeframe.  And his wife, Nikki, and their two sons, Christopher and Max, helped each year as well.

Location coordinator David A. Miller prepares for an indoor WAA ceremony in 2017 during inclement weather. (Photo credit: Nikki Miller)

In addition to his service as the Jefferson Barracks location coordinator, David has also served every year since 2006 as a group leader for the event specifically raising thousands of dollars in charity support for the Missouri Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, through the personal sale over the years of almost a thousand wreaths.  Finally, as a senior officer of the Missouri Wing, David served as the CAP point-of-contact for the event for many years assisting in the participation of multiple CAP units, from both the Missouri and Illinois Wings, including cadet color guards and CAP aircraft flyovers.

Typically, hundreds to thousands of volunteers are needed at every location to assist in placing wreaths on Wreaths Across America Day.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions last year limited the total number of persons in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at a time, section by section.  Nonetheless, through an extraordinary effort over several days, this smaller group of dedicated volunteers (Millers included) still placed more than 30,000 wreaths throughout the cemetery!  Despite obstacles, the mission was accomplished.

Always an impressive sight! (Photo credit: David A. Miller)

Looking for a community charity event for your members to get involved with – perhaps one that has a limited time-commitment?  Please consider volunteering with Wreaths Across America.  While the most volunteers are needed for the single-day Wreaths Across America Day event on a Saturday in mid-December, help is also needed year-round by local organizations supporting the event – so now is the time to find your local WAA event and volunteer!  Find more information at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org about events near you.

Give Them Blood

Commodore Marcela Holečková donating to the cause at BloodCon 16

by Flight Operations Chief Petty Officer Dominika Janečková, HMS Ishtar (BC-487)

03.10.2021 CE / 350.01.17 AL — Eleven years ago, the tradition of donating blood in Honorverse uniform emerged. The first ever Bloodcon took place in Prague in September 2009 and was organized by Johnak (Jan) Kotouč, our chief commander at that time. First, “sessions“ were quite jolly, as the staff in the hospital had not only never heard of the Honorverse, but certainly never met several people dressed in costumes and wanting to help!

Back in January 2014, ten people arrived, six of them in uniforms… including Captain Blanca – who, as per tradition, arrived earlier as the vanguard, and whose blood was separated for plasma. Since then, the tradition has grown – more than 40 events have been held. They are no longer thing “just“ for Prague or one organizational group, as our fanbase itself has expanded in numbers. Bloodcons now take place every three or four months in bigger cities across Czech Republic.

We are honored that several members of our Fleet have been awarded medals for donating blood – so called “Jan Jánský” medal. Jan Kotouč, who started this Bloodcon tradition, was awarded the golden medal in 2019. In the rest of the fleet, the wound stripe has been authorized for those who document that they’ve given blood to assist their communities in need. With the COVID epidemic, blood donation has been down, due to the added difficulties with the precautions. So I encourage everyone to get out and donate today!

Rising to the Challenge

Members of 2nd Fleet lined up for attention (March 2016)

by LCDR Patrick Giese, 2nd Fleet Ops Officer — 2021.01.19 PD / 349.18.15 AL

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the last year and a sizable chunk of 2021 offer huge challenges for our ships, groups and personnel. We’ve had to shelter in place, mask, avoid social situations, and large gatherings – which are considered by many to be the lifeblood of fan organizations. Some of us in fact either suffered directly from the pandemic, either contracting COVID, looking after someone else who came down with it, or worse case, watched as some parted company with us too soon and soared off into the void. Jobs, family members, friends, and shipmates all impacted in strongly negative ways.

Nonetheless, rising against the challenge is part of the 2nd Fleet character, and once again, we lifted off under heavy fire and still managed to pull together in fun and unique ways. Out on the Discord servers we planned and schemed fun in ways that kept us safe and let us continue to (virtually) gather to game and socialize. Socially distanced Geocaching hunt early in the year, later, contributing to virtualized cons like CDRE Justin Grays at vConvergence for the panel on POC in fandom, HMS Vixen’s Blood Drive challenge, and the HMS Havoc Theater watch events to name a few. It might be that given the challenges of upper Midwest winter living prepared us for hunkering down and still having fun!

On the relief front, the Gryphon’s Wings was there time and again to help those adversely impacted from among us, with donations rolling in to support those less fortunate from among our shipmates. No doubt more will yet be required of us until we can be together and celebrate meeting the challenge. So we still do the necessary, follow guidelines, help our shipmates when needed, and plan for the return of gatherings.

Looming on the horizon of 2022 is our part in delivering WorldCon in Chicago. The fleet has offered to assist with the event, and RADM Geoff Strayer is assembling the fleet support team for that event. And the big one this Fall of course, the Matter of Honor LARP on the USS Edson in Bay City, Michigan! But most important, please remember to stay safe, and respect the guidelines that are in place to mitigate the scourge, until we can gather again!