Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unit receives generous Freemason donation

Sgt. William M. Zoeller
January 13, 2009

FORT DIX, N.J. --When many people hear about Freemasons their minds begin to dazzle with images of secrecy and ritual. However, what people may not know, the Freemasons have participated in many positive fundraising events that benefit the community and the military. The 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team located in Philadelphia is no exception to the traditions and history of the Freemasons.

The 56th SBCT received over 4,000 international calling cards from the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania January 13, 2009. Grand Master Stephen Gardner, lodge leader of the group, handed the calling cards to Col. Marc Ferraro, commander of the 56th SBCT.
The Freemasons have donated over $156,000 to their “Change for the Troops” program since December 2008 in support of the U.S. Armed Forces heading to all regions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We were fortunate to honor you by giving each of the 4,000 Soldiers deploying a phone card,” Gardner said to the Soldiers of the 56th SBCT present for the ceremony. “It’s not enough of a measure of gratitude for all that you do.”

Each Soldier will receive a telephone card with 300 prepaid minutes to keep in touch with their friends and families while deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Soldiers of the 56th SBCT performed combat training for deployment at Fort Polk, La., and have been unable to communicate as often as they wanted to with their families.

The generous donation has increased the morale of the Soldiers by giving them the opportunity to call back for no price to families and friends. Organizations such as the Freemasons have reassured the Soldiers that there are groups that support the troops during times of war, said Spc. Danielle Wilson, Soldier of the 56th SBCT.

It’s great that we received the cards. We’re not given the chance or availability to talk on the phones and it really helps financially, Wilson said. “It’s good to know there are people out there looking out for us.”

The 56th SBCT also has ties leading as far back as the American Revolution and the Freemasons. As a token of appreciation, Ferraro gave Gardner a Liberty Bell plaque from the unit. The Liberty Bell plaque and the unit’s history date back to the Benjamin Franklin Association, Philadelphia’s original militia. Ferraro also gave Gardner a unit coin.

For many in the unit and local area the Freemasons are familiar. Among the group that was organized for the ceremony and exchange of items were fellow masons who were more than anxious to meet with Gardner. These Soldiers were given lapels to distribute to other brothers of the Freemasons while in theater.

Maj. James Fluck, the brigade civil affairs officer, is one of many valued members of the 56th SBCT. He is also a mason that has lived in Pennsylvania his entire life. He said that the generous donation is typical to Masonic lodges and that their support is greatly appreciated by his troops.
“Deployment is tough enough. The biggest complaint in the unit was the lack of communication back home,” Fluck added “The use of these cards will help the morale of the troops a lot!”

This will be the unit’s first deployment to Iraq, but this isn’t the first time the unit has been called on by the country to help in times of need. The unit was deployed to New Orleans on September 1, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina struck.

The 56th SBCT has strong ties to their minuteman legacy under Benjamin Franklin as the “Independence Brigade.” The brigade again has been called on for a historic mission similar to their revolutionary ties and Pennsylvanian heritage. Assisting and rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq remains paramount for the stability of their government of and for the people.


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