Plymouth resident honored at MMAF’s annual event
Transition can be a difficult thing for those who’ve come home from combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Minnesotans returning to civilian life frequently face difficulties with finances, employment and education opportunities.
In honor of military members’ sacrifice and service, it’s appropriate to take the time to say thanks.
That’s what Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund has been doing since August 2005. The nonprofit, volunteer-run organization collects private donations from across the state and packages the funds into grants for Minnesotans who have served in combat zones since Sept. 11, 2001.
A Plymouth man was recognized by MMAF at this year’s annual Say Thanks Day on Sept. 11 at Fort Snelling.
Sgt. Trevor Friesen, 32, of Plymouth, has served in the U.S. military in a number of different functions and branches. He was the recipient of a $500 grant from MMAF at Say Thanks Day.
After graduating from Blaine High School in 1999, Friesen joined the United States Air Force where he served for five years.
Friesen comes from a family with a strong military tradition. His grandfather fought in WWII, and his dad was Air Force in Vietnam-era military.
When the terrorist attacks occurred, Friesen was working as a crew chief at an Oklahoma City Air Force base. With the Air Force, Friesen was deployed a number of times in short tours. He left the Air Force in 2004 and spent two years as a civilian, which didn’t suit him, Friesen said,.
“I think I was born to be in the military, and I guess I wasn’t really happy to be out,” he said. “Life is a lot clearer to me in the military – show up to the right place at the right time and in the right uniform and you can’t be wrong.”
Shortly after, he joined with the Minnesota Army National Guard and began work as a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic. Friesen went Army active duty in 2009.
With the Army, Friesen served with D Company, 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. He was deployed to Afghanistan March through August 2010.
While deployed, his assignment was lead technician of life support equipment and he traveled between a number of different bases for maintenances.
However, Friesen’s tour was cut short. He had kidney stones and was medically discharged as a result.
Friesen was forced to reacclimate to civilian life once again.
Currently, he is enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program for disabled veterans, which helps him pursue his educational interests.
Friesen said he’s been taking classes and has applied to Rasmussen College’s nursing program – he aspires to be a registered nurse.
“Now that I’m not in the military, education is very important to me,” he said. “Since I can’t be in the military any more, I need to find other ways that I can help people. I wanted to protect my country and I can’t do that anymore. So now I want to help people feel better.”
While Friesen has been pursuing his education, he has been unable to work. He was connected with MMAF through an assistance council and learned of the grant opportunities.
Since 2005, the organization has given about 14,500 grants totaling more than $9 million to Minnesotan service members. All the money comes from private donations from the people and businesses of Minnesota.
The grants are designed to help people like Friesen financially, but also, MMAF Executive Director Kelly Boston said, to deliver a genuine message of appreciation for their service.
“We’ve heard many stories about how the grants meet a financial need, but the majority of the feedback is about how good it feels to be thanked by the citizens of Minnesota,” Boston said. “We can’t underestimate the power of saying ‘thank you.’”
Friesen said the $500 grant he received came at a crucial time for him, and the money helped to remedy a tight financial situation. However, he said, the gesture of the grant and the thanks tied to it made the experience all the more special.
“It’s huge,” he said. “I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that there are so many people out there who still care about veterans. We don’t go into the military because we want to be heroes or recognized, so for people to do something like that out of the kindness of their heart – it means more to me than I could ever say.”
At Say Thanks Day, MMAF hosted 5K and 10K runs, a two-mile walk and a Marine RECON Challenge in addition to a kids’ carnival, live music and a magic show.
Boston said more than 800 people attended the event and three grants were given at different levels for Minnesota’s military members.
A letter of appreciation accompanied each grant from MMAF. Boston said it’s important for Minnesotans to keep military members in mind as the conflict in Afghanistan winds down.
“The fact is that we have many Minnesotans still serving in combat zones or are being called into deployment, despite the war winding down,” she added.
She said that, since 9/11, there are more than 25,000 Minnesotans who’ve served in combat zones. More than 3,000 of those have returned home within the past 18 months.
She also noted that another 600 men and women will serve in combat zones this year.
“Giving these grants is really the least we can do,” Boston continued. “Giving thanks is very important – we are not going to repeat the mistakes of the Vietnam era.”
Friesen said Minnesota is an especially appreciative state when it comes to veterans. He said he would often be in public in uniform and strangers would frequently insist on paying for his restaurant tab or for gasoline at a pump station.
He said he tries to return the favor by helping connect other veterans with information about programs and resources available for returning military members.
Friesen spoke to the crowd at this year’s Say Thanks Day and expressed a genuine appreciation for the grant money as well as the kind words of thanks shared with him.
As Friesen continues with his education, he emphasized his desire to help those around him.
“I really just love serving my country,” he said. “There’s not a better feeling in the world.”
To make a donation to MMAF, or to learn more information, visit mmaf.org or call 877-668-4269.
Contact Brian Rosemeyer at [email protected]