Commemorating 9/11 is a solemn matter and most of the services and commemorations this week have been solemn and moving. But today, on the weekend of the September 11 Day of National Service and Remembrance we also commemorate the spirit of America that we saw so briefly after the attacks, when we worked together, pulled together. We honor those who died that day, we honor those who served that day, by our service to others. We also celebrate the generation that has grown up in the shadow of these wars.
Today hundreds of volunteers gathered at Fort Meade in Maryland, to build a playground for the children there. Volunteers from Northrop Grumman and Kaboom joined with volunteers from Fort Meade, Blue Star Families and others. Teams constructed an amazing playground, with swings, tunnels, a climbing wall, slides and the path of pavers, some of which had been painted with patriotic themes. Picnic tables and comfortable benches were built for the parents, some with checker boards painted on them. Teams built a place where the imagination can take wing, where children can forget that a parent is deployed or about to be deployed, where families can play together and enjoy being together.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta joined us. He signed an Operation Honor Card and thanked the Blue Star Families volunteers who collected dozens of pledge cards from the volunteers, which will be sent to service members and families. Sec. Panetta talked to the group before rolling up his sleeves and going to work. As he said, this is what America is all about, volunteering and giving back to others. Wearing jeans and boots, he mixed cement and dumped wheelbarrow loads to anchor the swings. Another honored guest, Mrs. Patty Shinseki jumped right in and worked tirelessly as well.
After 6 1/2 hot sweaty muddy hours, the ribbon declaring the playground open was cut by some of the children who had been painting, making cards and working as hard as they could. Group photographs were taken, there was cheering and well deserved congratulations, and many hot tired and sweaty volunteers went home to enjoy a well-deserved rest. Many of these same volunteers will be attending other services tomorrow. This “United We Serve” project celebrated life, celebrated volunteerism, celebrated Joining Forces and working together.
Photograph by the author