GOSHEN—Jaimie Leonard dreamed of military service and was on her way to a brilliant Army career after she graduated from West Point in 1997. On June 8, 2013 Lt. Col. Jaimie Leonard was killed in Afghanistan at the age of 39.
Two days before her death she had been approved for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and received the promotion posthumously two days after her funeral. Jaimie Leonard is the highest ranking woman killed in action in U.S. history.
HERoes in Deed
Jaimie’s sister Liz Harmon wanted the community to remember her decorated sister, not only with words, but to pay it forward with deeds, and HERoes in Deed was born. Because Jaimie was athletic, the organization planned a 5K race on Memorial Day 2014 and was rewarded with positive community support. They awarded two scholarships to high school students and held another race this year.
On Nov. 10 Harmon and her aunt Laurie Courage spoke at the monthly meeting of the Orange County Veterans Coalition to encourage the vets’ participation in the organization founded in her sister’s honor. “[Jaimie] challenged people to do more than just honoring our veterans and waving flags, but actually participating, giving back service,” Courage said.
Courage explained the organization’s mission that highlights the vet’s special skills. “We are focused on having the community participate with our veterans, shoulder to shoulder, doing hands-on projects.”
Harmon says the organization is based on her sister’s ideals. In a letter to the Warwick Advertiser on Memorial day 2010, Jaimie said, “It is my wish this Memorial Day that you consider your duties as citizens. The duty goes beyond serving in the Armed Forces, jury duty, taxes, or voting. Your duties are to each other, not some esoteric concept.
“Remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country in war, but also honor those others who sacrifice in other ways to make this country great – law enforcement, firefighters, teachers, volunteers, etc.
“Please honor them in deed and not just giving thanks, parades, or planting flowers or flags on graves. Take measure of what have you done for your country and ask yourself if you could do more.”
HERoes staff researched to find the best niche in which to serve vets. “We found that veterans do not necessarily want to be thanked for their service but they feel invisible in their community.” Helping to integrate veterans into the fabric of the community seemed the way to go.
“When [vets] come back in to the community, not everybody understands what they have been through, the sacrifices they’ve made being away from their family, or the decisions they have to make,” Harmon said.
Harmon contrasted the veterans of WWII who were drafted and got full support from their local communities to veterans who enlisted after 9/11 as volunteers. 9/11 vets have difficulties back home and don’t always get the support of their community. It is these vets HERoes most wants to work with.
She said the vets coming home have volunteering “in their blood” and HERoes wants to make use of that. The challenge was “How can we utilize that and have the community work together with those people shoulder to shoulder so they are not so invisible?”
Jaimie grew up in a blended family of six with a mom and dad who were Buddhists and who did not believe in war. In any event, they supported their daughter’s decision and Harmon says the parents—her dad died six months before Jaimie’s passing—appreciate what the military does to keep the country safe.
Jaimie worked in intelligence and was respected by the Afghani generals she advised. Harmon says she knew so much about Afghan history that they would come to her and ask questions about their own tribes. Among the more than 22 commendations she received, Jaimie earned three bronze stars and a purple heart.
The organization’s Facebook page noted on Oct. 26, the Soldier’s Chorus performed in Melbourne Fla. During The Ride of the Valkyries, a montage of pictures of women in the military included Jaimie.
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