Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
She was called and asked to speak at a Phi Theta Kappa honors conference. Taylor thought about what she wanted to say, then asked if she could just write it down and read off of it. I told her of course she could, after all, we see many adults do it that way. So, that is just what she did.
I sat in the room listening to her talk. Her body looking so tiny, her voice started out pretty soft. But as she went on, she seemed to get taller and her voice definitely commanded attention. This is what she had to say:
Hello, my name is Taylor Batten. Many call me Gunny, that is because I am an honorary Gunnery Sergeant for the United States Marine Corps. Not bad for a 15 year old girl how has a major medical problem! I am 15 and I go to Mendon High School.
First off, I would like to thank you for having me here. It means a lot to me that someone is wanting to hear my story and hopefully, I will be able to encourage some of you to help out with our troops.
I know that I am going to be speaking next weekend here again, so today if it is ok, I will just tell a shortened version.
I am reading off of this paper because sometimes it is hard for me to speak without reading. I have Turner Syndrome. Turner Syndrome is an extremely rare medical condition, it only effects girls and only less then 1% even survive birth. I was one of the lucky ones, but I didn't always feel that way. Turner Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder, I am missing a chromosome. Because of that, I am missing miles and miles of genetic make up. It has caused all sorts of medical problems for me. Sometimes, my brain doesn't process information like everyone else's does, it just fires differently. My body produces growth hormone, but it resists it, that is why I am on the shorter side. I also don't produce estrogen and because of that, I have low bone density already. I have several other things going on as well, but the biggest thing is my heart. I have already had heart surgery at the age of 6 months old. Right now, I have several leaking valves, one valve that has only 2 flaps instead of 3 and my aorta is really enlarged and it is dangerous for me to play any sports. So, I can't.
Because I can't play sports, I try to do other things with my time. When the war started, I wanted to do something. I was pretty young then, but I just knew I had to do something. I have always loved my country and I am very proud to be an American. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
My mom didn't know what to do though to help me. She kept asking people what we could do and finally, one day someone sent to us a link to go to a website called www.anysoldier.com My mom and I went to that website and there they had all these service members who were deployed to Iraq and they were asking for all sorts of things. It was sad to see what they were asking for because we thought just like everyone else, we thought that the government took care of everything they needed. But that isn't true. They were asking for simple things, things we take for granted every day.
They needed food, can you believe that? Now imagine being put into a hot desert. The temps are 110. It is really to hot to eat, but you know you have to. Now imagine, in order to get that food, you have to put on all your battle gear which can weigh a lot and then you have to walk to your chow hall. If you are in a small base, the walk might not be that far. If you are on a larger base, the walk could be over a mile away. So, many of these guys weren't going to the chow hall to get what they needed. Small snacks for in their tents, perfect.
They asked for soap, deodorant, toothpaste, pillows, sheets, magazines and newspapers. They don't have TV's everywhere to watch or radios to just turn on like we do here. There were even a few medics asking for Band-Aids, Tylenol, antibacterial ointments. Yes, they do have PX's there, that is like a store. But many times, they aren't stocked on a regular basis and if they are, you had to be right there as soon as it was because everything was in such high demand. They many times though were stocked with really odd things, like vacuum cleaner bags, no vacuums though. What are they going to vacuum up there anyways, the desert floor? Or maybe 3 types of denture cream, no toothpaste though. One even had a baby car carrier in there.
The one thing they mostly asked for was support from home. They didn't want to be forgotten. They needed to know that we care. So, that is what I did. I sent letters and care packages. I did what I could do and somehow, the Marines heard about me. Because of my medical condition, I can't be in the military. They decided that I was doing a good job for the deployed and our country, so they made me a Marine.
Before that, I was pretty sick all the time. Many times, it was hard for me to even get out of bed. I had a lot of doctor visits and a lot of not good things happen to me and I was always scared to go to any type of doctor. I used to fight it. But, when I became a Marine, something changed. I felt so much stronger inside. I decided that if our guys were doing what they were doing, I could do what I needed to do and I did.
I am still sick and I still get tired a lot, but not how I used to. Because of all the medical stuff I had been through and some of it was really bad, I kind of felt like I knew what our wounded were going through when they were at the hospital. I had to go to Washington DC to the National Institute of Health for medical testing. Right across the road is the National Naval Medical Center. That is where all of our wounded Marines go to when they are wounded. It was set up for me to go visit with them, that was when I was 12. It was an incredible day. I got to visit with some really badly injured guys. What I saw that day made me even stronger. They were hurt really bad, but they were fighting to get better and some of them were even fighting just to stay alive. Many of them were able to talk to me. It was strange for them I am sure. They were hard core warriors and here I was a 12 year old kid, but I understood them and they felt it. The Lt. Col. in charge there told my mom he had never seen anything like it before, how the guys were with me.
Because of that visit, I got invited to go to the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. I got to spend a whole week there, visiting and being with the Marines. The main part of the visit though was to spend time at the Wounded Warrior Barracks. It is for guys that were injured and they were well enough to get out of the hospital, but not well enough to do anything else. They are able to be at the Wounded Warrior Barracks with other wounded and that is so important. They don't feel alone and they still have that deep camaraderie that the military have. I got to talk with so many of the wounded and I got to be a part of their lives. I am still friends with many of them now. I also got my promotion to Gunnery Sergeant there.
I raise money to help the wounded and I do many other things for them. Again, many people think our government takes care of these guys and again, it isn't quiet true. Some of them come home and then there is all this governmental red tape they have to go through. Some of them don't get any type of money or assistance at all for several months to up to a year or longer. Many of them have lost their homes because of it. Almost all of them have emotional issues. Their injuries are often life altering. Some, the injuries aren't on the outside, but on the inside. They, just like our deployed, need to know they are not forgotten and that someone cares. I know how they feel.
I know that I am now stronger on the inside and outside because of them. I won't give up on them and they won't give up on me.
I have become friends with so many veterans. In fact, I held a card drive and I got cards sent from all over the United States to give to veterans in nursing homes. I have gone to a couple of nursing homes in our area and gave cards and then I just got to visit the Grand Rapids Veterans Home. I took several hundred cards there and I was able to give them all out. Many of the veterans are old and have no family to visit them. Some of them, when they opened their cards, cried. They cried because someone said THANK YOU to them. They have no one to visit, no one to talk to other then the other vets there.
None of us can know what these deployed, wounded and veterans have gone through. We can only imagine. Think of how it would be for you to be taken away from your family and friends and then shipped off to a foreign land. Think of how you would feel being in 110 plus degree heat day in and day out, having to wear up to 70 lbs of battle gear, not being able to take a shower for days and sometimes, weeks. Wearing the same clothes over and over again. Think of how it would be, knowing there are bad people out there and their sole purpose was to kill you. Every piece of trash along side the road might be a bomb, every person walking towards you might kill you or harm you. Going from town to town, knowing people didn't want you there and in fact, hated you. Knowing bad things happened to those that did step up and help you. You can't go home, you can't sleep when you want to, you can't eat when and what you want to.
Think of how you would feel if you got shot, lost an arm, leg, an eye. Or, you lost one of your best friends because they didn't make it from their wounds. Even if you didn't get hurt, inside you are holding onto things because some of it goes against complete human nature.
That is what our guys face every day they are deployed. That is what our veterans hold onto when they come home. Doesn't matter if they have been home for a day or for 50 years, it never leaves them. One war, they are all hailed heroes and welcomed home. The next war, they are all treated horribly and spit at as they came home. Now, another war rages on and many people want to act like it isn't even happening.
But through all this, our troops are proud. They are proud of their country, they are proud of the good they did and are doing. There are many good things that have come out of past wars and the ongoing one now. They do what they do because their country has asked them to do so. Many people do not agree with the war at all, but to me, it doesn't matter if you agree on the war and the reasons of it, what matters is that we have our fellow Americans fighting a fight and they need us. Sometimes, it is just a simple small thing like a letter asking how they are doing that boosts their morale enough to help them get through that day and to stay alive, or to give them that extra strength to recover.
It is because of their strength and courage that I have the determination to fight my own battle with my health. It is because of their strength and courage that I fight hard for them.
I send care packages, letters and emails, I visit the wounded. I hold blanket drives for the troops in Afghanistan because it gets really cold at night, I am doing a clothing drive for the wounded. If they get wounded in the field, they go to a hospital and their cammies get cut off them and then they are flown home in a hospital gown, not comfortable! I raise money for the wounded and for our veterans. I try to get the word out as much as I can. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it isn't.
I don't do it alone though, there are times that people will help me and they donate things. I find it never hurts to ask. One time, I asked my mom's dentist for some toothpaste to send and I got a whole case! I went to a company and told them I was raising money for the wounded and they gave me a check for $1,000. I asked for cards for veterans and I got over 2,000 sent to me to give out. I asked for blankets one time and I got over 100. Sometimes, people will give money to buy what I need or to help with shipping.
I have been able to meet so many of our country's heroes and I am so lucky to be able to call them my friends. I am lucky that I have been able to help out so many of those that are fighting and to let those that have fought to know that many people do care. My mom says though that I am the luckiest because of the strength I have given to others, they give me strength back and because of that, I am stronger.
I am proud of our veterans and what they had to endure to make sure that we all get the freedoms we have today. I just try to do my part to make our country better because of them.
Thank you for letting me speak to you today. Never feel like you can't do something or you can't help out in someway, I am proof of that.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
There have been many things I have not posted on, Taylor going to see Lt. Col. Maxwell retire, meeting the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, being part of a color guard, getting to spend an outstanding training day with the Michigan state police K9, visiting a veteran's home and the list just goes on......
I will TRY to get updated with pictures SOON!
If by chance you are checking in, please keep Taylor in your prayers and send good juju vibes her way. This coming Friday, she has a big heart appointment at the University of Michigan. This is always a fearful time for her and for her dad and I. Taylor usually is tough as they come, but whenever she has to go up for this appointment, it throws her off a bit. So please, just keep her in your thoughts for her to be strong for this.
Monday, August 3, 2009
With it being Memorial Day weekend, our radar is up even more so in making sure to look out for veterans. Last night we went out to eat and Taylor noticed 2 men sitting at a table and one had on a veteran hat. She went over, held out her hand to shake his and thanked him for his service. He just sat there and looked at her. She, thinking he might be hard of hearing, said out louder THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. He got this profoundly strange look on his face and said back to her, 'I am sorry, I am not a waiter and I don't work here'.
The look on Taylor's face was about the funniest I have ever seen! It obviously didn't register with him what she was thanking him for, but when he said that back to her, it didn't register to her what he was saying. Finally, she pointed at his hat and asked him if he REALLY served! She was serious, but I about spit out my pop because it was so funny! It all of the sudden came to him what she was thanking him for and he just laughed and hung his head down and shook it back and forth. It was just comical to watch, why he thought she thought he was a waiter, we will never know!
A bit later, another veteran came in and sat down at a table across from the other vets. I got up and gave each table gift cards we had to help pay for their meals. As we were leaving, the older vet came up to our table and thanked us for his meal. He told us that had never happened to him before. He kept saying how appreciative he was that a stranger would do that for him. I told him it was us who was appreciative and it just stuck in my mind and heart, a small gesture turned out to be something more then a small gesture.
Today, we went to a fund raiser for the WWll Honor Flights that Taylor has helped get money for, the group that flew her out to DC with them last year. It was at a small airport and it was a 'fly in' all you can eat pancake breakfast. They had there the 369. She is a Viet Nam veteran medical Huey. She has been lovingly restored back to original condition.
One of the guys that has been instrumental in getting her off the ground just so happens to be someone I went to school with. He is Army and flies the big bad boys of attack helicopters. Anyways, he was the pilot today and both Taylor and Tanner got the chance to go up. Taylor has a Viet Nam friend who was a crew chief on the Huey and he hasn't been up in one since he got back home, in 1968, and he got to go up with them as well.
They went up, with the doors open while flying and came back around and did a low fast fly over. I have to say, standing on the ground seeing that fly at you, not just hearing the THUMP THUMP THUMP but FEELING it, well it was a pretty amazing thing to see and feel. However, it was what happened after they landed that was by far the most emotional thing that has happened in awhile.
Dick got off the Huey and the emotions got the best of him. He broke down and cried. It wasn't just your normal cry though. You veterans know the cry I am talking about. It came from his very core. Taylor wrapped her little arms around him and I think for a minute, she was actually supporting him up. The only thing he could get out between the sobs was a guttural OH GOD, over and over again.
We just let him cry, we hugged him, but we let him cry. After several minutes of non stop sobbing, he was able to compose himself a bit to turn around and look at the Huey, rotors still turning. You could feel the power of it and the whirl of it was almost deafening. He then said something that hit us all standing around him. He started to cry again, and then he said 'all those boys we took out of the jungle, all those boys that never made it to be a dad or a grandpa' He then lost it again.
By now, several of the crew were surrounding him and they were all hugging and most were crying. A pain only they can share and only they know. While we were witnessing intense pain, we also knew we were witnessing intense healing as well. It was then, that we were able to step in and hug each one and say to each one WELCOME HOME. Dick said it was something he couldn't ever describe in words, but what he did say was that while he was up in the air, time stopped and he was transported back. He could feel, smell and every other sense there is, it is exactly what it was like for him before. Then the intense pain of knowing NOW what he lived through, what he saw, what he did, it was just almost to much. The pain of all his brothers that never made it back, it all came to a head for him, so many things he held back and held down, he had no control over. It overflowed his protective gait he said.
We just listened, crying, but listened. Then, he smiled. He said he never got a welcome home. In fact, he got just the opposite and it was very ugly. Since then, he has been told several times welcome home, and it was nice to hear. But today, as he stepped off that Huey, transported back into time, we were there to welcome him home and he said that was the first time he FELT it.
So, last night and today started off our Memorial weekend. A time to laugh, a time to feel pain, a time to reflect and be thankful for those that made it and for those that didn't, a time to witness healing.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
We need to have everyone there as close to 11:30 as possible. The parade starts at 12.
To park, you have to go to the Sturgis High School. There is parking EAST of the High School (Franks Ave entrance) or the Eastwood School parking lot (east of the high school football field, Franks Ave entrance). There are going to be many roads closed so it will be best to use Chicago Rd (US 12) and turn SOUTH onto Franks Ave. Park your cars and then you have to walk to the line up which is on Ivanhoe. You should be able to see where everyone is going. Our parade entry number is 58. Thank you everyone. This is going to look really nice to have all our flags flying. I want people to know we care, I want veterans to know we care. The parade ends this year at the Sturges-Young Auditorium.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Here is a picture of her delivering a bundle of cards to a veteran. He was so happy to have someone there to talk to. He was a farmer before and after his service time and he was so proud of his tractors and to be able to talk to someone about them. He just kept looking at her like he couldn't believe that someone had actually come to visit him!
She is wearing her Explorer outfit, for as soon as she was done visiting, she had to go to the St. Joseph County Jail for her first ride along! Boy, did it turn out to be exciting for her. They weren't even out on the road more then a few minutes and already had someone pulled over. Here is a picture with the officer she did her ride along with.
Taylor is working hard as ever on her up coming projects. We are now making plans for her 2nd annual big fundraiser for the veterans, which should be in August.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Taylor Batten honored at state DAR meeting
Above and beyond - Pictured with Taylor Batten are, from left, DAR members Rebecca Shank, Jan Streeter and Katherine Langworthy. Photo provided
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:54 PM EDT
E. LANSING — St. Joseph County’s very own Honorary Marine Gunnery Sgt. Taylor Batten was named the State DAR Veteran Patient Youth Volunteer for 2009 at the State Awards luncheon in East Lansing.
Taylor, a ninth grade student at Mendon High School, has devoted the past four years supporting our troops overseas and the wounded veterans in hospitals. Averaging 400 or more hours a year, she sends cards, letters and packages, visits hospitals to cheer up the wounded and attends funerals of our fallen heroes.
Taylor has been adopted by the Wounded Warriors and supports the Children of Veterans Organization. She is also a member of the Patriot Guard Riders often attending funerals with them. In addition she works with other groups that have similar focus, the American Legion and the Blue Star Mothers.
On hand to honor Taylor were six members of the Abiel Fellows Chapter that nominated her. Also in attendance were her parents Kevin and Cathy Batten, Mendon High School Principal Jay Peterson, State Senator Cameron Brown and special guest Commandant Bob Cook of the Kalamazoo Marine Corps League. DAR members from across the state and their guests gave her a rousing standing ovation.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I am sending a link to youtube for you to watch. This was taken last night, 2-18-09, at Taylor's school.
A little over a year ago, Taylor came home and was upset about walking down the hall and seeing trophy cases full of trophies for sports and academics but nothing for our military. We told her to do something about it.
She went before the school board and didn't ask, but demanded that it be changed. They all sat before her smiling, how could they say no not only to Taylor speaking from the heart but also for such a noble cause.
She had a plaque made up, a flag flown over our state capital and a flag flown over Washington. There was also a flag that was flown over Iraq by a Mendon high school student who went on to be in the Marines.
She called upon the military recruiters and they all stood with her at half court for the presentation during a basketball game. It was a pretty neat night and I know most of you have already heard about that night.
Well, everything was finally put together and it took a long time to get things done. She wanted to have a 'final' dedication for the display and things started rolling. It ended up being more then just a dedication to the military veterans of her school. It ended up being a very emotional reunion of two cousins that are very closer then brothers.
There is a young man from Taylor's school that became a Marine after he graduated. Taylor never knew him, he is much older. On one of his tours in Iraq, he was severely wounded. Once we found this out, Taylor then wanted to meet him. Taylor and Sgt. Dean Cugliotta have since become very good friends. She has involved him in many things and even got him to join the Marine Corps League with her.
Dean suffered a TBI and lives daily with post traumatic stress. As you can imagine, some days are much better then others and as of late, the bad days seem to outnumber the good days for him. This has weighed heavily on Taylor.
Dean's cousin is active duty and stationed in CA. We kept waiting to have the dedication because we kept thinking that Thomas was going to be coming home. The Marines had other ideas and he couldn't come home, then he was, then he wasn't and it went on like this for quiet sometime. We finally decided to have the dedication now and once Thomas was able to come home, we would do something special for him. After all, he did have a flag flown that is part of the display.
This as well weighed heavily on Taylor. She knew how things were tough for Dean now and she knew that a visit from his cousin was just what he needed. Now, how to do it? Taylor decided that Thomas WAS coming home. But, she didn't want Dean to know we were going to work on it in case things didn't work out. With Gunny Batten on the job, you just know it was going to get done and sure enough, it did!
It was decided that this was going to be a surprise to her very good friend Dean. We got travel arrangements all set and then went about a well laid out plan on getting him home from California and then coming into our small town with no one knowing.
Once again, Taylor called upon the recruiters to stand with her for this and they gladly were there for her. Many veterans showed up. Thomas showed up in his blues and Dean did as well. He did much fretting over wearing them and looking good. He almost wasn't going to wear them, but he got an order from the Gunny and he had to wear them.
We had Dean stand with his back to a hallway and we got everyone gathered up for the presentation, colors was called and Dean stood at attention. That is when Thomas walked up behind him. What happened next is something I can't really describe, as no words do justice to the raw heartfelt emotions that took place. Dean was told to turn around and when he did, Thomas's face was right there. It took Dean a moment to register and once he did, he just lost it.
He wasn't the only one, everyone broke out in tears. It was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed. Once they were done hugging, it was Taylor's turn to talk. Normally, she is a ball of fire when it comes to talking, but even she was thrown by what had just happened and she was a bit lost on what to say. I think, considering the hard work she put into this dedication and reunion, she was really tired but did an outstanding job.
The news was there and had it on and I have to say, the footage they caught was outstanding and they really did capture the true emotions of it. But anyways, here is the video that was sent to me.