‘Folds of Honor’ and the ‘Spartan Pledge’

By TED WADDELL
Posted 9/9/20

HAWLEY, PA — On Monday, August 31, the Country Club at Woodloch Springs hosted their seventh annual Folds of Honor Golf Classic.

Folds of Honor (FOH) was founded in May 2007 by Major Dan …

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‘Folds of Honor’ and the ‘Spartan Pledge’

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HAWLEY, PA — On Monday, August 31, the Country Club at Woodloch Springs hosted their seventh annual Folds of Honor Golf Classic.

Folds of Honor (FOH) was founded in May 2007 by Major Dan Rooney, a former F-16 fighter pilot with the Oklahoma National Guard, a Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) professional and member of the United States Golf Association (USGA).

The stated mission of the charitable organization is to “empower military families by providing educational scholarships and other assistance” for the children and spouses of military service personnel who have been killed and/or disabled in service to our nation.

Since it was founded, FOH has awarded more than 10,000 educational scholarships to military families.

John Pillar, a PGA professional, serves as director of golf at the Country Club at Woodloch Springs, part of the famed Woodloch Resort complex founded by the Kiesendahl family.

The resident golf guru spearheaded the partnership between FOH and Woodloch Springs with the backing of the Kiesendahl clan.

In 1997, Pillar competed in the U.S. Open, followed by an appearance at the Senior U.S. Open in 2012, was elected honorary chairman of the PGA of America’s Philadelphia Section and, last year, received the American Patriot Award, which is given to “the professional who personifies patriotism through the game of golf and demonstrates unwavering commitment to the men and women who valiantly served and protected the United States of America.”

On the subject of the genesis of Woodloch Springs partnership with FOH, Pillar said it started as a senior high school project for veterans by the daughter of a mother who was involved with the country club’s amputee tournament.

Pillar, a 1985 graduate of Wallenpaupack High School and now in his 29th year at Woodloch Springs, said that, in the first year, about 60 golfers signed up and raised approximately 2,000 dollars; by the next season, the tourney had evolved into a FOH event.

The 2020 FOH Golf Classic attracted roughly 128 participants, down from the 180 or so golfers who signed up last year due to COVID-19 concerns.

According to Pillar, over the years, the annual events have raised an estimated $200-250,000 in support of the FOH mission to help vets and their families.

“These dollars are so significant... It’s not just the dollars, you are saving lives,” he said. “For every $5,000 that we raise, FOH provides a $20,000 scholarship for an individual… a child or a spouse of someone who was severely injured or killed. We do it for our local vets.”

In addition, Pillar noted that FOH and Woodloch Springs partner to provide a cost-free vacation for several families of vets each year: FOH picks up the cost of transportation, while the resort “takes care of the rest.”

“Some of these people never thought they’d have a vacation again, and that’s inspiring,” he added.

While Pillar never served in the military, his brother joined the U.S. Marine Corps and a lot of the friends he grew up with went into the service of our nation, including local vets killed or gravely injured in battles overseas.

“It’s some small way I can serve our country in a way that’s different,” he said. “I know every one of these people by heart... I found out at the 2016 event that a dear friend, SFC George Pugilese, who lived right down the road, was one of the six killed in the same Bradley [a military fighting vehicle, in mil-speak, a BFV].”

As part of the moving ceremony, retired U.S. Army Master SGT James “Strapper” Strasser, a member of VetStock, read to the assemblage the sacred “Spartan Pledge,” a heartfelt pledge for vets to not commit suicide over the trauma of war.

“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family,” he said, as the participants bowed their heads, perhaps reflecting upon the devastation of war to the mind and spirit, as well as body.

Afterward, as the golf classic drew to a close, Strapper took a few minutes to talk about his service in four combat tours, what inspired him to join the “way of a warrior” and what it’s like to lose comrades-in-arms to the ravages of bloody conflict.

“I know eight of the recipients, and I served with seven of them,” he said of the military personnel honored in recent years by the local FOH Golf Classic. “I lost nine comrades to suicide, some of them I knew closely, some of them just as acquaintances.”

On the topic of suicide, Strasser said, “It’s a silent killer, the war within. Those guys who were in it, whether it’s through alcohol or drugs, we need to combat the flashbacks... It’s something we need to talk about.”

Strasser knows his way around the world’s battlefields. He racked up four deployments including 22 months in Iraq, along with missions in Bosnia and Kuwait, serving 1,385 days in hostile fire zones during 29 years of service in the U.S. Army. He retired this year on May 8 as a Master Sergeant.

“We lost Ryan Ostrom to a sniper, prior to six guys getting killed when their Bradley hit an IED near Ramadi,” recalled Strasser. “The one that hurts the most is Staff Sergeant Dan Arnold.

“I joined the National Guard for a while. I drove a truck, he was a mechanic, saw him every day, then we were deployed, shooting the breeze before we went out, and later he was dead... I think of him every day.”

Continuing his saga of a modern-day Spartan, Strasser said he joined the U.S. Army in 1983 “right after graduating” Wallenpaupack High School the previous year.

“Basically, I didn’t care about school, had no interest. A lot of my friends were drinking at the time. I had to get out of the area because, if I didn’t, I probably would have died of alcoholism.”

“I liked it, so I stayed in,” he said of almost three decades of military service. “I don’t have any regrets serving my country.”

The 56-year-old soldier shared a few thoughts about the current state of affairs in America.

“What’s happening in this country right now, all these protests and people burning the flag, it’s very disheartening for the people who are on these banners,” said Strasser of the array banners bearing the likenesses of honorees from previous FOH, including his comrades Ostrom and Arnold, which were displayed at the clubhouse.

Past event honorees-killed in action (KIA) are SSG Paul Sweeney, LCpl Jacob Beisel, SSG Daniel Arnold, SFC George Pugliese, SPC William Evans, SPC Lee Wiegand, SGT Eric Slebodnik, PFC Oliver Brown, MAJ Paul Voelke, SSG Ryan Ostrom, SGT Jan Argonish and MAJ Christina Martin.

Past event guest honorees-wounded in action (WIA) are SGT Tim Lang and SGT Garrett Anderson.

“They are basically disrespecting their service and their sacrifice, they don’t like Trump, it definitely hurts. I’ve had brothers and sisters die, and if they burn our flag, if they hate it that much, they should leave, go somewhere else.”

But on the flip side of political expression, Strasser said, “I get it, the right to protest,” and taking the long view of things today, added, “Moving forward, I think more people should join the military. Get some structure, get some discipline... There’s a lack of discipline in this country right now, a lack of humanity.”

Results of the 7th Annual FOH Golf Classic: August 31, 2020

* On course: longest drive #18, ladies (Nancy Mauro); longest drive #9, men (Paul Buehler); closest to pin #4 (Fred Reber, 4’6”); closest to pin #8 (Doug Rickard, 11’11”); closest to pin #15 (Chris Fryer, 6’5”); closest to pin #17 (Steve Vignau)
* 4th Flight-even par (Bill Rosado, Karen Rosado, James Rosado, Nina Rosado)
* 3rd Flight-4MC (Dave DeCandis, Walter Kujawski, Bill Millan, Kevin Stringer)
* 2ndFlight-6MC (Randy Klern, Scott Haegele, Robert Bertoni, Dave Soblewski)
* 1st Flight-8MC (Jim Corcoran, Brian Corcoran, Rodrigo Isaza, Dave Olver)
* Championship Flight-17 (Rich Winkler, Bob Rogers, Adam Rogers, Doug Rickard)

To learn about the FOH Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization, visit www.FoldsofHonor.org, and for information about the Vetstock mission, visit www.vetstockamerica.com.

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