Every branch of the military says it a different way, but they all say it; sometimes the taglines change, but the sentiment is always the same. For years, the Army declared themselves an “Army of One;” unofficially, the Navy says, “Non sibi sed patriae” (Not for self but country); of course we’ve all heard “Semper Fidelis,” or “always faithful;” and the Air Force lives by “Service Before Self.” So, what does it all mean?

Family. Unity. Cohesiveness. Military servicemen and women learn early in their careers that their band of brothers (and sisters), the most important people they’ll know during their enlistment, comes first. More often than not, that mentality carries forth even after the return to civilian life, and it’s a mantra Boot Campaign lives by every day – to give back to our brothers and sisters who serve and sacrifice for all of us.

More than a motorcycle ride

It was evident at this year’s Boot Ride, where some 350 service members, veterans and civilian patriots mustered Sunday, November 2nd for a ride through the picturesque Texas Hill Country, followed by a concert at one of Texas’ oldest dance halls. In addition to being the last official Boot Campaign event paired with longtime supporters, the cast of “Sons of Anarchy” (SOA), Boot Ride 2014 was the backdrop for two very special presentations honoring military heroes.

Boot Campaign’s Military Recovery Fund (MRF) bridges the gap between government programs designed to care for military families and the often-challenging reality that is life during and post-service. We also use donations to fund wellness experiences that give deserving veterans a little rest and relaxation when they need it most. This year’s Boot Ride celebrated two distinct military families who received grants from Boot Campaign. 

Home is where the heart is

Stephen and Robyn Kolos, parents to three young kids, have survived situations much worse than a busted sewer line, but the catastrophe that nearly ruined their New Jersey home was a devastating blow to the Air Force veteran, currently serving in the Air National Guard. After researching their options, the Kolos family discovered Boot Campaign and made the call for help. What happened next was, to say the least, more than they expected.

The Kolos joined Boot Campaign at Boot Ride, where they mingled with SOA cast members, musician Aaron Lewis, actor Eric Bana and Boot Campaign supporters Marcus and Morgan Luttrell. As special guests, they had a backstage pass for the events and spent time getting to know the Boot Campaign staff in attendance. Midway through the concert, the Kolos met Boot Campaign’s Joey Jones onstage to receive their home grant. In front of hundreds of supportive faces, the pair learned they would receive $20,000, made possible by a generous donation to MRF from longtime-supporter DUG Eagle Ford conference, to repair their home and make it habitable again for their young family. Their faces said more than their voices revealed, but Stephen and Robyn positively radiated gratitude and hope from the stage.

“This will help us to fix our septic system, replace our broken heating unit and start repairing other household damages. Our home will become livable for our family thanks to the generosity of Boot Campaign,” notes Robyn. “There are not enough thanks to express how grateful we are for the help we received.”

Dreams as big as Texas

It bears repeating that for every hero serving at home or abroad, there’s a family backing him or her that sacrifice deeply in ways most civilians will never know. The Holley family of Oceanside, California paid the ultimate price when Marine Gunnery Sgt. E. C. Holley was killed in action while deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. His pregnant wife Chrissy was left to care for their children Andrew and Alyssa alone, a far cry from the happy ending she envisioned when the pair met and he took on parenting her kids like they were his own. Sgt. Holley never met his new daughter Sienna, now four years old, but his legacy lives on through all three kids.

Caring for veteran families is a cornerstone of Boot Campaign, and anytime we can make a wish come true for a deserving military kid, we jump at the chance. Sgt. Holley’s daughter Alyssa, an aspiring musician, stood bravely alongside her mother to help guide their family through their darkest days after losing her step-father. Now 16, she hopes to one day sing professionally, and Boot Campaign wants to give her a boost in the right direction.

Together with her mom Chrissy, Alyssa flew to Texas for Boot Ride 2014 where she sang the National Anthem for the rally crowd at John T. Floore’s Country Store. As a bonus for the patriotic audience, she also performed a song she wrote after her step-dad was killed, titled “Fallen Hero.”

“Singing onstage at Boot Ride was such an amazing experience. I felt so privileged to have been a part of such an incredible organization, and be able to share my personal story and my passion,” Alyssa recalls. Later that afternoon, Boot Campaign Programs Director Megan Sievers shared a surprise component of Alyssa’s big wish that will hopefully help her on the road to super-stardom! We’ll divulge the secret early next year, but it’s safe to say Alyssa was beyond thrilled with the opportunity Boot Campaign cooked up for her with our friends at Brat Pack 11, whose unparalleled mission sends military brats on unforgettable experiences. 

“It was such a surreal moment that I would relive over and over again if I could,” she continues, “I felt like the luckiest girl in the world being granted an opportunity to pursue my dreams.”

At the young age of 16, Alyssa understands far too well the price military families pay to protect the American way of life, but she also knows the connection shared with others in this vast community. She and Chrissy watched from the audience as the Kolos family received their grant, and as the presentation unfolded, Alyssa grabbed her mother’s arm and squealed, “Oh my God! Oh my God –” as excited for their gift as she had been for her own.

Community of honor

The men and women who protect America forge a bond with each other that reaches the rest of us who live peacefully thanks to their service. That instant connection inspires Boot Campaign to continue our efforts to awaken patriots and care for service members and veterans in every way possible, and we’re honored to give back to the Kolos and Holley families. To learn more about Boot Campaign and our assistance programs, and to contribute to our mission, visit bootcampaign.com.