SRU to honor its fallen soldiers, their families during Oct. 8 Military Appreciation Day
Sept. 30, 2016
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - While the name may sound regal, it accompanies a status and inclusion in a group that no mother, father, wife, husband or child wants membership: Gold Star family.
For nearly a century, inclusion has been restricted to those who have lost an immediate family member serving during wartime.
Such is the case with a pair of fallen Slippery Rock University ROTC graduates whose families will be honored during The Rock's Oct. 8 Military Appreciation Night football game at 6 p.m. versus Mercyhurst University. All military veterans and current soldiers will be admitted to the game free of charge.
SRU President Cheryl Norton will present SRU pins and flowers to the families of the late Army Capt. Jason West and Army 2nd Lt. Christopher Loudon during a special halftime ceremony. The tribute marks the 10th anniversary of the soldiers' combat deaths.
West, formerly of Crafton, enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school, serving as an attack helicopter repairman. He later enrolled at SRU and served in the ROTC program. He graduated from SRU in 2002 with a degree in human resource management.
A tank commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armor Division based in Friedberg, Germany, West took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.
He died July 24, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq, during a firefight with enemy combatants. Medals and commendations posthumously awarded to West include: Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Combat Action Badge, Aviation Badge and the Parachutist Badge.
Members of West's family that will participate in the ceremony include: his mother, Dee West; widow, Juli West; and brother, Doug West.
Loudon, formerly of Brockport, graduated from SRU in 2005 with a degree in environmental health. He served as captain of the Ranger Challenge Team. The Army assigned Loudon to the 2nd Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
After deployment to Iraq, Loudon died Oct. 17, 2006, in Baghdad of injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Medals and commendations posthumously awarded to Loudon include: Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge and Parachutist Badge.
Member's of Loudon's family that will participate in the ceremony include: his widow, Jacey Kennedy; parents, Randy and Susan Loudon; and brothers, retired Army Maj. Nicholas Loudon and Jonathan Loudon.
"It is important to remember and honor their sacrifice," said Army Capt. Joseph Barrow, SRU assistant professor of military science. "Their lives were cut short for what our country asked them to do. Our country asked them to go and fight. In doing so, they made the ultimate sacrifice."
The term Gold Star family is a modern reference that comes from the Service Flag. Families first flew these flags during World War I. The flag included a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the U.S. military, during any period of war or hostilities in which the armed forces were engaged. If that loved one died, a gold star replaced the blue star. This allowed members of the community to know the price that the family had paid in the cause of freedom.
SRU's embrace of former soldiers has been noted by several veterans groups. Victory Media, a veteran-owned company that helps veteran's transition back into civilian life, named the University a 2016 Military Friendly School.
This year also marked the launch of "The Military Support Group at Slippery Rock University." The student club offers support tailored specifically for military-connected students and any individual serving in the military. Barrow serves as faculty adviser.
A fallen comrades plaque in the Russell Wright Alumni House and Conference Center memorializes eight SRU graduates who died in action as well.
Memorialized in the Medal of Honor Room in the University's North Hall Welcome Center is Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Estocin. Estocin, a 1954 graduate and pilot, died in 1967 during the Vietnam War. He became the only SRU graduate to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Oct. 8 football game and halftime presentation will be televised nationally. It can be viewed on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. Regionally, the game will be broadcast by WPNT-22, Pittsburgh.
Prior to the game, beginning at 4 p.m., SRU ROTC cadets will host a display of military equipment in the Stadium parking lot. The public, particularly children, is invited to come out and experience equipment demonstrations and talk with veterans. ROTC and VA Butler Healthcare will be distributing a variety of gifts to those attending.
At halftime, both the SRU and Mercyhurst University bands will perform. There will also be a special demonstration by the Seneca Valley Junior ROTC.
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