Military events flourish this week in Tampa Bay area
Published: May 6, 2013
Updated: May 6, 2013 at 06:47 AM
This is shaping up as a pretty fun week. And one in which I wish I could defy the laws of nature and be at more than one place at one time. It starts early Tuesday morning with the departure of the 10th Honor Flight of West Central Florida, which takes World War II veterans, free of charge, on a trip to the WWII Memorial in Washington. The public is invited to welcome the veterans home in a ceremony at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport about 8:30 p.m. Parking will be free. The weekend is where things get complicated, with five worthy events, two Friday and three Saturday.
Friday night, you can meet people such as Tampa resident John T. Nelson, 92, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, whose storied career included being shot down over Yugoslavia during WWII. Nelson is part of a group of downed airmen who evaded capture, and three of their helpers, who will be at the Treasure Island West Ballroom of the Crowne Plaza-Tampa Westshore, 5303 W. Kennedy Blvd., from 4 to 6 p.m. This event takes place during the annual reunion of the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society. The society is one of the world’s most exclusive. To be eligible for membership, a person must have been an Allied airman and been forced down behind enemy lines and avoided captivity or escaped from captivity to return to Allied control. There are only 600 members. “I can’t wait to see everyone,” said Nelson. “There are damn few of us left.” For information, go to www.airforceescape.com/. Just as the meet-and-greet breaks up, actor-musician Gary Sinise comes to town with his Lt. Dan Band to kick off a nationwide tour to raise money to build “smart” homes for severely wounded troops. The concert, 7 p.m. Friday at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, will raise money to build a home for Mike Nicholson, who lost three limbs in Afghanistan. Nicholson, 23, a Marine sergeant who was recently medically retired, lost both legs and part of his left arm in an improvised explosive device attack on July 6, 2011. Sinise said the homes will cost about $500,000 each. Organizers hope to finish a dozen homes by the end of the year. One of them, on a treed half-acre South Tampa lot at 6231 Interbay Blvd., will be built for Nicholson. There will be a groundbreaking at that address at 10 a.m. Thursday. The public is invited. Gates open at 6 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $35 and $70 for VIP seating. For information or for tickets, go to supportmikenicholson.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the gate starting Thursday. Saturday there are three more events featuring some of my favorite recreational activities — fishing, sport shooting and riding on old military conveyances. At 7 a.m., MacDill Air Force Base will open two miles of its south shore area to fishing. I did this last year. For anglers, the normally restricted waters off MacDill are a fish-teeming heaven with the added attraction of being able to go someplace usually off limits. If you have a boat and the time, I highly recommend it. For information or to register, call the outdoor recreation office at (813) 828-4982 While the fishing gets under way, Shooting With SOF, another one of my favorite events that I highly recommend, kicks off. Held at Shooters World, 116 E. Fletcher Ave., from 8 a.m. to noon, it will feature commandos teaming with local businesses, celebrities, disabled veterans and community leaders for the organization’s third competition shooting event. Shooting with SOF will raise money for The Green Beret Foundation, the Foundation for Exceptional Warriors, and Support the Troops, a local group that provides care packages for soldiers overseas. The event will showcase Special Operations Forces legends teamed with local businesses, celebrities and community leaders in competition shooting events using special operations weapons. There also will be a firing range dedicated for severely injured and disabled veterans assisted by special adaptive shooting technology. As with previous Shooting with SOF events, there are only a few team positions available. But you can support the charities by watching the event and attending the after-party next door to Shooters World, hosted by Elder Jaguar and starting at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. For information, visit www.shootingwithsof.com or call Scott Neil, a retired Green Beret organizing the event, at (407) 276-6789. If taking a trip on a historic ship strikes your fancy, you are in luck. The S.S. American Victory, one of only four operational merchant vessels, sets sail for a Relive History Cruise around Tampa Bay and the Port of Tampa on Saturday morning. The cruise will feature “USO-style entertainment and refreshments,” organizers said. The cruise is a fundraiser for the ship, which is expensive to operate and maintain. Built in 1945, it voyaged around the world delivering critical cargo to serve World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Registration is 10 a.m. at 705 Channelside Drive. The ship departs at 11 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m. Tickets are $99 for adults, $69 for military/veterans, $49 for children 4 to 12. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com or by calling 1-866-468-7630. For information, call (813) 228-8766 or visit www.americanvictory.org. A quick note on my weekly list of those who have died in service to the country. I compile it from the Department of Defense, which does not divulge names until after families have been notified. That’s why the list doesn’t always reflect the latest news, like the crash of a KC-135 refueling tanker that killed three in Kyrgyzstan. The Department of Defense announced the deaths of seven troops last week. Spc. Trinidad Santiago Jr., 25, of San Diego, Calif., and Pfc. Charles P. McClure, 21, of Stratford, Okla., died May 2 in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, of injuries sustained in a vehicle accident. They were assigned to 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo. Staff Sgt. Michael H. Simpson, 30, of San Antonio, Texas, died May 1 in Landstuhl, Germany, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit on April 27 with an improvised explosive device in Arian, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Capt. Brandon L. Cyr, 28, of Woodbridge, Va., Capt. Reid K. Nishizuka, 30, of Kailua, Hawaii, Staff Sgt. Richard A. Dickson, 24, of Rancho Cordova, Calif., and Staff Sgt. Daniel N. Fannin, 30, of Morehead, Ky., died April 27 near Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in the crash of an MC-12 aircraft. Cyr was assigned to the 906th Air Refueling Squadron, Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Nishizuka was assigned to the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron, Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Dickson was assigned to the 306th Intelligence Squadron, Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Fannin was assigned to the 552nd Operations Support Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. There now have been 2,194 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.