Thursday, April 5, 2012

4-H'ers ask Texans to 'purple up' for military families

WESLACO, Texas — Carlos Tamez wrote two letters a few years ago, to be delivered to his children in the event of his death while on active duty in Iraq.

The Black Hawk helicopter pilot from Weslaco poured his soul into his words, offering love and the best advice he could muster to his two young children, just in case they had to grow up without their father, he said.

Fortunately, the letters never had to be delivered. Tamez came home safely from the Middle East in 2009 to rejoin his wife Patty and two children, Celeste Ariana, 14, and Carlos Aaron, 9.

"I came home with two Bronze Stars and they belong to my kids," said Tamez, a U.S. Army Reserve helicopter pilot who flew countless missions transporting dead and wounded soldiers out of combat zones during four tours of duty.

It's the Tamez children and many others like them who will be honored by 4-H on April 13 for the sacrifices they make while their parents serve their country abroad, according to Luis Saldana, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service program specialist for 4-H and youth development at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

4-H is asking all Texans to wear purple on that day as a sign of solidarity and support, he said.

"This is a Texas initiative called Purple Up for Military Kids," Saldana said. "It's a partnership among the United States Army, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the 4-H and youth development."

Why purple?

"Purple is the color that results from mixing the traditional colors of all the armed services in this country, including the green of the Army, the red of the Marines, the orange of the Coast Guard and the blue of the Navy and Air Force," Saldana said.

"We're asking everybody to wear purple next week, on Friday the 13th, to honor and recognize the sacrifice and contributions that children of deployed personnel make - children who are oftentimes overlooked by the public."

When he first went to war in 2003, Tamez's son was only 10 months old.

"When I came back on leave 10 months later, he didn't recognize me," Tamez said. "So, I wrote death letters to him and my daughter. I explained why I wouldn't be there for all the important events in their lives — sporting events, proms, graduation, their weddings."

It was a heartbreaking task that Tamez said still gets to him when he thinks about it.

"I suddenly realized that I wouldn't be able to teach them how to tie their shoes, how to shoot their first buck, all those things kids learn from their dad. In my letter to my son I tried to explain to him how to be a gentleman. It was just so......" His words trailed off momentarily.

"My absence was very tough on my kids," Tamez continued. "Every generation of Americans is called upon to protect their country, and it was just my turn. But the real heroes are those who didn't make it home. They and their families are the heroes."

Tamez's daughter is an eighth-grader at B. Garza Middle School in Weslaco. At the urging of her brother, she became a member of the Queen City 4-H in Mercedes and promptly displayed her talents in raising goats. On March 2 she was honored as Reserve Champion Showman 2012 at the South Texas Ag Roundup (STAR) in Edinburg.

"Of course, I'll be wearing purple on April 13," she said. "This program definitely brings back memories of my father not being here and the pride I have for what he did to serve his country."

With her dad safely home, Celeste offered a bit of advice for other children of deployed parents or guardians.

"Be strong," she said. "Be strong, because their parents are being strong for everybody else."

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