Civilian couple honors children of fallen warriors; helps families heal

DALLAS, April 11, 2012 – Thousands of special American citizens dedicate their energy to supporting and honoring military families, but a uniquely talented Ohio couple has placed an original spin on this institution. Fueled by profound patriotism, Trish and Scott Snyder founded Hero’s Rock, a non-profit dedicated to honoring America’s fallen warriors by crafting exquisite, custom-designed rockers for their children left behind. As the Hero’s Rocks website describes, “Losing a loved one is always hard. Losing someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice in service to us all is purely heart breaking. We want to do something for the innocent who suffer the most from the loss: the children. How do you tell a child you appreciate the sacrifice? Maybe a rocker, made with love, honoring their loved ones service will help give them comfort and show we care. They may not understand it’s meaning, but with time they will come to see that their hero was very special to us all.”

The foundation, established just last year, hopes their loving tributes will convey the nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices made by our military families, while providing a comforting heirloom for the children whom these sacrifices affect most.

Scott, a self-described “hippy” is a master carpenter while his wife Trish is a talented painter. Together, they have crafted several personalized rockers for the children of fallen heroes in their spare time. “At first, I thought people would think we’re weird, but we’ve received so much support,” says Scott.

This is partially because such heirlooms are rarely exchanged in the age of technology and plastic toys, and partially because the couple has no connection to the military. “At first, we set out to make them for children of other public servants, like police officers and firefighters until we heard the story of Christopher Thibodeau.”

CW2 Christopher Thibodeau, an Apache helicopter pilot, was killed in action during the final month of his year-longAfghanistandeployment. Thibodeau was a newlywed expecting his first child.

Known as a loyal friend, exceptional soldier, and a perpetually kind, positive person, his loss was devastating for his family, the closely-knit Apache community and to the nation as a whole.

“These things just aren’t supposed to happen to people like Chris. When he was killed, we lost a true patriot; a man willing to put himself on the front line to protect God, country and family. He was the poster child of patriotism and sacrifice. He conquered every obstacle in his way. He was living his dream,” says CW2 Donny Rafford, a fellow aviator and close friend of the Thibodeau family.

Chris’ wife, LeeSandra Thibodeau, also a military veteran, gave birth to their son Liam in January of this year, 9 months after Chris’ passing. Moved by the tragic circumstances and bittersweet arrival of baby Liam, the local media shared the story. The Snyder’s were watching.

“Chris’ story flashed across our nightly news. We were so moved. We didn’t justwantto do something for his family, wehadto do something for his family,” says Scott Snyder.

Passionate, honorable patriotism ignited their drive and soon, Americans were donating and the Snyder’s were able to raise funds for the project relatively quickly. After several months of communication with Chris’ wife and parents, Apache One, a custom Apache helicopter rocker for baby Liam, was born. Inscribed on the rocker are military emblems paying homage to Chris Thibodeau’s service.

Once complete, Hero’s Rock personally delivered the rocker to the Thibodeau’s and were greeted with heartfelt hugs, tears and sincere gratitude from one family to another. During a time of unfathomable grief, the loved ones of Thibodeau were smiling again thanks to the kindness and generosity of this civilian couple willing to reach out to the military community.

“When they gave us the rocker, we were crying happy tears for once. It was so beautiful and would be something Chris would want for Liam. He’s up there in heaven, thinking: look at what my son has. They [Hero’s Rock] gave me that,” says LeeSandra. “They showed me compassion and kindness by building something so beautiful and original for my son. They put a picture of Chris on the rocker and there is an engraving; they just went above and beyond dedicating hours and hours to create this heartbreaking, but beautiful gift for a child they didn’t even know.”

Citizens in both the military and civilian communities are often wary and intimidated to communicate with one another. The military community is a relatively closed culture and for civilians, they are a world apart with a separate language, hierarchy and customs, which can be overwhelming as an outsider. Both groups feel as if they do not understand one another, which sadly stifles communication and similar acts of generosity on both sides.

LeeSandra acknowledges this, but highlighted that she felt comfortable working with the Snyder’s because they were respectful and humble when reaching out to her, “They didn’t ask permission, they did it. They weren’t pushy. They didn’t use me or Liam to promote their cause by taking pictures and blasting Chris’ story. They didn’t have an agenda. They let their gift speak for itself.”

It is not just the families receiving the special gift that are touched, but also the comrades of these fallen warriors. Losing a brother in combat is devastating, but when military lives are lost, most of the focus is on the family. These fellow warriors grieve deeply, too. For Thibodeau’s fellow soldiers, observing how the civilian community responded to their grief reaffirmed love of country and community.

CW2 Jared Clift, a twice deployed Apache aviator and close friend of Thibodeau shared his thoughts, “Knowing that people care about the people we’re losing means more than anything. We don’t want parades or attention, we want people to care about us; that is crucial. We do what we do for the American people.”

Rafford mirrored Clift’s sentiments, “They brought a smile to Leesandra’s face and a bit of joy to her heart, and made the gap between Chris and Liam, a father who will never meet his son, that much smaller. God bless them for all they have done for the Thibodeau family and their willingness to help the fighting force sustain.”

Both Clift and Rafford were deeply appreciative of the healing impact Hero’s Rock made on their friend’s grieving family and hope the organization will inspire civilians to utilize their special talents for other military families, not as civilians, but as Americans.

“The people of Hero’s Rock are heroes. To know there are people out there who stand in the shadows, but do everything they can to support our fighting forces, to give all that they are and ask nothing in return, is amazing. These are true patriots in their own right! We, as a fighting force could not possibly sustain without men and women like them on the homefront.”

The Thibodeau family has not been the only recipient of the Snyder’s talents. Dawn Kahoun was touched by the Hero’s Rock mission and donated to the program, which is also a contest. The Thibodeau family drew the winning name and RayLee, a 2/12 year old daughter of a Marine Corps Sergeant won. Sgt. Kyle Kahoun, a Machine Gun Instructor at Quantico, VA has been twice deployed and should he go again, the heirloom serves to remind little RayLee that her father’s service is appreciated.

Hero’s Rock also intends to honor the family of SPC Jordan Byrd. The 19 year-old Army medic was killed in action by sniper fire after running into intense small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire to save another soldier. For his heroism, Byrd was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and a clinical facility at Fort Campbell was dedicated in his name. Byrd’s wife Savannah delivered the couple’s first child three days before Byrd left for Afghanistan.

This last decade of perpetual war has strained communication, but as those controversial, divisive conflicts come to a close, Americans have a unique opportunity to heal together through exhibiting such kindness and generosity to one another. Such selflessness not only supports children that have lost a parent in war, but also demonstrates to the military community that people care, generating a ripple effect throughout the hearts and minds of those serving.

Veteran advocates and volunteers hope organizations like Hero’s Rock will inspire others to contribute to the patriotic partnership between the civilian and military communities that is crucial to the health of the country.

Hero’s Rock is currently designing, developing and raising funds for Ayden Byrd’s rocker. For more information on the program, to recommend a hero or donate, please visit their website.

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