By Scott Frano ’13
Alumni Association Writing Intern
Every year, “The Shirt” is a way for Notre Dame students and alumni to show support for the football team, and, thanks to the efforts of a local club, two alumnae can show their alma mater pride with it this fall while serving in Afghanistan.
As MEDEVAC pilots in Task Force Hammerhead, Capt. Margaret Lero Larson ’06 and Capt. Hayden Piscal Howell ’08 fly aeromedical evacuation missions over what is known as Regional Command-South, or “RC-South,” which includes the provinces of Zabul, Kandahar, Daykundi, and Uruzgan. Larson and Howell are platoon leaders, each in charge of around 20 soldiers, and they fly everyone from American soldiers to enemy prisoners. Their job is to get an injured passenger to a higher level of medical care while the flight medic and crew chief do what they can.
The soldiers are also being sponsored this year by the Notre Dame Club of Spokane, Wash., as part of the Alumni Association’s Hesburgh Month of Service. It marked the fourth time the club has sponsored graduates from Notre Dame’s ROTC program.
Through a series of coincidences, Larson and Howell became roommates in Afghanistan, making it easier for the club to support them. Among other things, the Spokane club has sent numerous care packages with cookies and toiletries. Larson and Howell also received the Shirt for next football season and took pictures with the shirts and a Notre Dame flag next to a Blackhawk helicopter. Larson said the Spokane club’s backing has been very helpful.
“We have loved all the support they have given us the past six months of our deployment,” Larson said. “They typically send emails and absolutely amazing cookies (those usually disappear within 24 hours of their arrival), and toiletries, so our soldiers are also becoming huge ND fans due to the goodies they constantly get. Just knowing that people are thinking of us and we have the support of the ND community is quite comforting.”
The support comes even though neither soldier is from the Spokane club’s territory, which also includes Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. Larson is from Bristol, R.I., and Howell, from a military family, moved around bases.
Bearing the burden of responsibility for the lives of 20 other individuals is a daunting task, but Larson said their time in Notre Dame’s ROTC program prepared them well for their roles. She said prayers are the most valuable support people can give them.
“After spending the past six years in the Army and now on my second deployment, I can undoubtedly say that ND and the ROTC program from which I graduated shaped me into the leader I am today,” Larson said. “There is no greater responsibility in life than being entrusted with the life of another human being. The values instilled in us at Notre Dame, the complete respect for the dignity of human life, compassion and empathy, unconditional love ... are values and feelings that have guided us as leaders.”
The Spokane club started sponsoring ROTC graduates for the Hesburgh Month of Service because the group’s vast territory made physical acts of service like building houses ineffective in serving the whole community. The club wanted to do something that the whole club, regardless of location, could get behind. So Anne Laflamme ’87, a member of the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, got in touch with the Air Force ROTC program and adopted Capt. Wendy Sue Kosek ’04, ’07 J.D., who earned the 2010 Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., Award for distinguished service to country. She was seriously injured in Iraq when her convoy hit an improvised explosive device.
The club continued to help ROTC graduates each year for the Hesburgh Month of Service, sponsoring Kevin Garcia ’09 and Colin Roche ’09 last year by sending around 130 total boxes of school supplies for children in Iraq. They were able to find Howell and Larson through the Army ROTC program.
Because Howell and Larson had no specific requests, Laflamme said the club has sent them a variety of different things.
“Maggie and Hayden are on a MEDEVAC team so they’re not going to be handing stuff out, so we’re just trying to support their unit,” Laflamme said. “We’ve sent them some Notre Dame pens and the alumni backpack and other paraphernalia from Notre Dame. But it’s mostly cookies.”
Howell and Larson will be deployed until December, and the Spokane club plans to support them until the end of their tour.